Friday, January 25, 2008

Campaign for Youth

The Campaign for Youth is an alliance of organizations working together to increase resources for disconnected youth.

They are inviting education and youth-focused organizations to sign on in support of its Strategy Memo, and to collaborate in order to engage the next administration in reconnecting youth.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mentoring and Foster Care

January is National Mentoring Month, and my top priority in 2008 is linking teenagers in foster care with mentors.

Resiliency research consistently identifies the presence of a supportive and caring adult in the lives of children and youth who succeed despite adversity and hardship (Osterling and Hines, 2006).

Yet, for the 520,000 children in the United States foster care system, one key challenge they face is the lack of a consistent, caring adult in their lives. For children in foster care, grown-ups move in and out of their lives as they transition from home to home.

Every year, 20,000 teenagers “age out” of the foster care system and are left to fend for themselves. During this transition period, they are at risk for homelessness, unplanned pregnancy, substance abuse, unemployment and criminal behavior.

A mentor can play a crucial role in preparing a young person for this jarring transition. Research indicates that mentoring programs for teenagers in the foster care system represent a preventative strategy to prevent negative outcomes as they emancipate from the foster care system and transition into young adulthood.

Mentors buffer foster care youth from negative outcomes by providing a supportive and trusting relationship, serving as a role model and assisting foster care youth in acquiring independent living skills (Osterling and Hines, 2006).

Mentoring programs are also cost-effective, because they address a fundamental need for many foster youth and do not depend on extensive resources. Therefore, they represent a practical approach to prevention and intervention with this population.

Successful Models of Mentoring Foster Care Children:

1. Advocates to Successful Transition to Independence program (ASTI) was a program run by a community-based nonprofit agency, conducted in two phases over two years. The study found that mentoring helps prevent negative outcomes as young people emancipate from the foster care system and transition into young adulthood. After twelve months of participation in a mentoring program, foster care youth exhibited improved social skills, a higher level of trust in adults, and self-esteem enhancement (Rhodes, 1999).

2. Mentoring USA was the first mentoring program in the United States to specifically address the needs of young people in foster care.

3. AFC (Adoption and Foster Care) Mentoring is a program in Boston, Massachusetts that provides both one-on-one and group mentoring for young people in foster care. Some of their mentors are alumni of the foster care system.

4. In My Shoes is a non-profit, peer-mentoring organization in Arizona that pairs foster care alumni with foster care youth. It was founded by my friend Christa Drake in July 2003, with the purpose of assisting 16 and 17-year-olds in the foster care system as they prepare for their transition to adulthood.

5. Fostering Healthy Connections Through Peer Mentoring was initiated by Child Welfare League of America, supported by FosterClub and piloted in Louisville, Kentucky. The program trains former foster youth to mentor current foster youth.

It is currently being implemented in Franklin County, Ohio by PCSAO, with the support of the Ohio chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America.

6. The Orphan Foundation of America moderates an e-mentoring group, which is funded by a three-year grant that they received from the Northrop Grumman Foundation.

Britner, Preston A., Fabrico E. Balcazar, Elaine A. Blechman, Lynn Blinn-Pike, and Simon Larose.(2006). "Mentoring Special Populations." Journal of Community Psychology 34:6, p. 747-763.

Clayden Jasmine and Mike Stein (2005). Mentoring Young People Leaving Care: ‘Someone for Me.’ Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

“Peer-to-peer shows success in Louisville pilot.” (2007). Children’s Voice 16:3, p. 35.

Osterling, Kathy L. and Alice M. Hines. (2006). “Mentoring Adolescent Foster Youth: Promoting Resilience During Developmental Transitions.” Child and Family Social Work 11:2, p. 42-253.

Rhodes, Jean E., Wendy L. Haight and Ernestine Briggs. (1991). “The Influence of Mentoring on the Peer Relationships of Foster Youth in Relative and Nonrelative Care. Journal of Research on Adolescence 9:2,185-201.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Tapping into the vision and passion of former foster children

It has been said that 'a picture is worth a thousand words.'

With that in mind, my husband and I created a video to illustrate what can be accomplished by empowering foster care alumni.

Please take the time to watch this video. If you are a MAC user, this link might work better for you, but might be a bit slow to initially load.

It is an opportunity to learn more about Foster Care Alumni of America, the Culture of Foster Care postcard project, and the recent Thanksgiving dinner at Capitol Hill.

As a former foster child, volunteering for Foster Care Alumni of America is my highest privilege. There are some things that money cannot buy -- and the honor of using your own personal experiences and those of other survivors to make a positive difference is one of them.

The experience is both healing and eye-opening. I used to think that the highest goal was to 'speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.' Now, I have learned that a better goal is to empower others to advocate, and to stand beside them in order to create a 'collective voice' which is more difficult to silence.

I created the video at the request of a conference facilitator who is considering me as a keynote presenter in 2008.

I am sharing it here, because it demonstrates what needs to happen throughout the United States, and across over the globe. We need to:

1. Dispel the stigma of foster care, and view survival behavior within its context, rather than pathologizing it.

2. Challenge survivors to view themselves not as victims, but as potential world-changers.

3. Listen to the voices of foster care youth and alumni and empower them to initiate change, since they are the 'consumers' of the foster care system.

4. Facilitate the development of foster care youth advisory boards and alumni peer support groups, recognizing that a permanent community can provide healing from a lifetime of broken connections.

5. Make child protection a priority. Thanks goes out to Megan Bayliss and all the authors and readers of Imaginif child protection became serious business.