Sunday, November 09, 2008

Biological Families and Air Mask Analogy

Does this statement sound familiar?

"In the event of an emergency, please secure your own breathing apparatus first before placing one on the person next to you."

When young people "age out" of foster care without being connected to "forever families," they often have nowhere to turn in times of crisis during young adulthood other than their biological families.

However, the issues that led to their being placed in foster care in the first place, such as abuse or addiction, are often still unresolved.

During the 2007 It's My Life conference, Jenny Vinopal, Correy Kitchens, Nayely Araiza and Cynthia Chavez led a workshop entitled: Biological Parents and College Students from Foster Care: Roles, Relationships, and Recommendations.

This workshop was based on the premise that family-of-origin issues can negatively or positively affect the college success of youth from foster care.

Workshop participants were given puzzle pieces that didn't match - in order to demonstrate the difficulty that is sometimes experienced in reuniting with birth families after aging out of foster care.

One presenter shared that when she was in college, her biological mother found out about the stipend and grants that she was receiving and started relying on her daughter to financially support her.

This issue is all too prevalent in my state.
1. A young woman who feels obligated to financially support her (physically abusive) stepmother because of promise that she made to her father while he was on his deathbed.

2. A young man who gave away the laptop he received to his sister and said that he "lost it."

3. A young woman who keeps taking needy people into her apartment, regardless of their inability and/or unwillingness to pay their share of the rent. This situation reminds me a lot of myself at her age.

What's the Solution?
I am currently working on designing a workshop titled: "When Helping You Is Hurting Me."

- It is vitally important for young people to develop healthy boundaries.
- When young people first age out of care, trying to save everyone around them right away can be like a drowning man trying to keep other people afloat
- Peer support can be helpful; being with other people from a similar background who are working to create a positive life for themselves and who care about each other

- Young people aging out of foster care have a powerful sense of urgency
- If they invest in personal development in order to personally survive, they can achieve the goals they have for their future
- Part of those goals will undoubtedly be wanting to give back.

But trying to give back right away can cost us in the long run.

Message to Survivors of Foster Care: "Please put the air mask on yourself first. It might feel selfish at the time - but it is NOT selfish! You have the passion, power and perseverance to see this through.... but first, you need to SURVIVE.

"It is okay to do that right now. It is okay to heal personally. It is okay to surround yourself with people who believe in you and support you.

Do you know why? Because if only you can make it through this hurdle and build into your own personal financial, emotional and educational resources, you will have SO MUCH MORE to offer others when you are on your feet. "

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The story of the girl who kept letting people live with her even if they took advantage of her totally reminds me of me, too, at that age! I had a studio apartment that eventually resembled some sort of crowded homeless shelter, because I felt like, if I had a place to live, I should share with EVERYONE! Plus, you want so badly to have a family, and to belong somewhere, and you just try to build your own family around you... even if it turns out to be as dysfunctional as the family you originally left!
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