Mentoring

Just today, learned about this organization. Many youth in foster care remain there if not adopted at a relatively young age until they “age out” as it is called. Are forced out on their own. I first discovered the Atlanta Angels whose Mission Statement reads – to walk alongside children, youth, and families in the foster care community by offering consistent support through intentional giving, relationship building, and mentorship.

They go on to define these 3 aspects – Intentional Giving is the giving of thoughtful and personal resources, gifts, and care packages that meet the real needs of the child and their entire family. Relationship Building is devoting time and energy to fostering healthy relationships that promote healing through connections and interpersonal bonding. And finally, Mentorship is equipping and empowering the youth in their program to be prepared for independent living and to reach their fullest potential.

The Atlanta Angels are a chapter of a national organization – the National Angels – which seems to have grown out of another more local organization – the Austin Angels. I’m glad to know there are other similar organizations across the United States. This program created the Dare to Dream (for youth ages 15-22) and Dare to Dream Jr (for youth ages 11-14) outreach efforts. These are intended to provide one-on-one mentorship to youth in foster care. Their mentors are advocates, guides, role models, valued friends, and available resources who guide youth that they may successfully accomplishment their developmental milestones.

Young people who have grown up within the foster care system have experienced instability in their lives and often disproportionately suffer with learning disabilities, limited life skills, health issues, and emotional and behavioral struggles that lead to negative developmental outcomes. Youth who age out of foster care without having been adopted or reunified with their families have less financial, emotional, and social support than their peers, yet they are often expected to be as self-sufficient as those who have familial support and guidance. This lack of assistance and resources combined with the various traumas these youth have experienced negatively affects their success and overall well being. As a result of having to overcome a childhood of abuse and neglect, removal from their parents, unstable living arrangements, multiple foster placements, and weak support systems, youth who age out of care enter young adulthood without a healthy foundation upon which they can build their futures and work to break the generational cycles that affect youth in care. 

Mentors provide the wisdom, advice, encouragement, and community that these youth need to thrive later on in life. A mentor involved in this program commits to meeting with the youth every other week to set goals and help them achieve their dreams. The organization hopes these relationships will last a lifetime, but the program only asks for a year’s commitment in some cases. Mentors matched with a high school student are strongly encouraged to stay with the youth until high school graduation. The simple act of a mentor telling their youth “I believe in you,” “You are special,” and “You are going to do great things” can change their path completely.

How Poverty Affects Adoptions

I don’t know if anyone has done a study on the percentage of children given up for adoption due to simple poverty (and poverty is not simple, I realize this).  I know it was a factor in both of my grandmothers losing custody of my parents and it was certainly a factor in my losing custody of my daughter.  Divorce and lack of child support left me desperate enough to temporarily leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother.  That ended up with her staying with her dad and a step-mother for the remainder of her childhood.  It was a factor in my sister losing custody of her daughter – she was denied government assistance because she was living with my parents during her pregnancy.  Therefore, because they didn’t want financial responsibility for my sister and her child, they pressured her to surrender her daughter to adoption.  This is all in only my own family of birth.

Someone asked – Do you believe that financial illiteracy is the reason people are poor and that programs teaching life skills like checking, bank accounts, and savings would work to eliminate poverty ?  While these skills are useful for any maturing adult, I don’t think they would eliminate poverty. Rich people have bigger safety nets. Financial illiteracy is not the reason people are poor and there are rich people who don’t know how to manage their money as well.

Someone answered the question – why are people poor ? With this – Capitalism. Rich people exploit others to gain wealth, keep money/land/resources for themselves, create systems that work to their advantage (and poor people’s disadvantage), pass it on to their kids who in turn use their wealth to get richer. Scarcity mindset is real and in my experience rich people are the most paranoid about losing any wealth. There is more than enough to take care of each other but our system doesn’t by choice. Some people think “if only poor people managed their money, they could accumulate wealth.” This completely misunderstands how wealth is acquired and horded in this country.

Generational and systemic poverty plague the poor. How can you climb a ladder in a system built to make the rich richer and keep the poor poor ? Our economic system is built upon the 1% wanting to make that difference bigger every day.  How can anyone achieve socioeconomic upward mobility when your grandparents were poor.  Therefore, your parents had to sacrifice an education and instead find work to support themselves and their families.  Then their children end up in the exact same situation. The deck is simply stacked against the impoverished.  This tends to become a *major* generational trend.  Even assistance is created in such a way that it keeps the poor poor.

Case in point – Medicaid and Food Stamps. As soon as a person gets a non-minimum wage job, they lose  their benefits.  Without these, health care and groceries are significantly more expensive than slightly above minimum wage will cover. The result ?  You’ve either got a person making $20/hour, but barely making ends meet if at all.  Or a person without resources and access to food and healthcare, simply because they would rather be self-supporting.

One mother wrote – I gave up my first two kids to adoption because I was broke.  I didn’t know how much help shelters could be.  I kept my third child thanks to a shelter and I got on my feet.  I now have a place of my own for us to live in.  I wish I would have known how to keep my children before.

I do believe as a society we can do better than we have been doing.  I don’t know how we get there.  If we supported families adequately, children could remain where they want to be – in the family they were born into.

 

 

Alone And Aging Out

I don’t often address issues related to foster care because I really don’t have any direct experience with that system – thankfully.

Even so, homelessness is an issue close to my heart since my own youngest sister was homeless for 4 years and somehow survived that and even managed to extricate herself from that about 10 years ago.  Her situation remains precarious and my heart hopes she doesn’t end up in those dire straits again but there is no certainty.

I have learned that when children in foster care reach a certain age, they are put out without much in the way of resources.  Some even run away from foster care before they reach that age.  These are children who lack any kind of supportive family to love and care for them.  Their parents may be in prison or addicted to drugs and self-absorbed.  Or their parents may have even died.

There is a non-profit known as Pivot in Oklahoma that is trying to do something substantial to help youth who would be homeless otherwise.  They are building a community of tiny homes to primarily serve the needs of 16 to 19 year old youth.  These are located right outside of the organization’s headquarter.  In addition to providing a bed, small kitchen and bathroom (a roof over their heads), the organization provides services.

They help the teen get a job. They teach them life skills. And they provide therapeutic attention to help these youth heal from a less visible internal hurt.  So regardless of the reason their parents are absent, a youth is understandably upset that the person who was supposed to take care of them, is not there for them.

All children still do love their parents at that level of attachment from birth. There is a grieving process that needs to be addressed – what should have been, could have been – wasn’t.  This healing is necessary if a person is truly to move forward with their lives in a productive manner.