It’s that time of year again, high school graduation. Many graduates are preparing themselves for the prom, graduation parties, and even preparing for college. Parents are scurrying around getting last minute gifts and items for the college experience. Some graduates choose not to attend college and prefer to go right into the workforce. Throughout it all graduates have someone in their corner to call on in order to make the important life decisions as well as ongoing support along the way.
Let’s for a moment put ourselves in the life of a teen aging out of the foster care system. It’s graduation time, many will not graduate on time due to changing schools throughout the process of moving from one foster home to the next. Those who are fortunate enough to graduate, who is their biggest cheerleader? Will they have the same experience of attending their prom, or even a graduation party of their own? Will the teen have the opportunity to attend college? Most importantly, who will be the person in their corner offering that much needed support and advice as they enter adulthood?
What determines whether a youth who ages out of foster care ends up on the street or educated, employed and happy?
Few parents push their children out of the door when they reach the age of majority. This poses a challenge to those who age out of foster care as they are no longer supported by the foster care system at the age of 21 in the state of New York. Ensuring a permanent, family like connection to an adult is the single most important thing anyone can do to make a difference in the life of a youth in or leaving foster care. One strategy that would foster connections is a mentoring relationship between the youth and an adult who is committed to believing in the youth’s talents and encouraging them to achieve their goals. In its simplest form mentoring is a one on one interaction, a single contact, an episodic or periodic set of contacts, or a full-fledged relationship. It can be informal and social or highly structured and purposeful.
Youth making the transition into adulthood from foster care are faring worse than their same-age peers. Very few of them appear to be on a path that will provide them with the skills necessary to thrive in today’s economy. They are less likely to be employed, a large number continue to struggle with health and mental health problems, and too many have children for whom they cannot provide a home.
What will you do to move from empathy to action? A foster youth deserves the same opportunities afforded to their peers.