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Mentorship programs provide guiding light for foster children

Posted January 9, 2019 9:48 a.m. EST

Mentors can provide stability for children in foster situations who may not have anyone to help them understand how to respond and regulate behavior in positive ways. (Rido81/Big Stock Photo)

This article was written for our sponsor, Children's Home Society of North Carolina.

Children in the foster care system are going through something most people will never be able to fully understand.

Many have even been through trauma or have experienced abuse or neglect at a very young age before being placed into care. Once in the foster care system, they often have no idea when they will be moved again or with whom they will be placed. They may even be separated from their siblings. Oftentimes, a child in foster care is the only foster child at school. This can be a lonely and isolated experience in and of itself.

These children's ability to develop the resilience needed to reduce the effects of this early adversity is significantly dependent on if they have at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or other adult. Mentors can be those stable adults for children in foster situations who may not have anyone to help them understand how to respond and regulate behavior in positive ways.

Members of SaySo (Strong Able Youth Speaking Out) emphasize that when it comes to new adults in their lives, they want to make sure it's not just another temporary relationship. Mentorship programs need to focus on slowly building trust and growing long-term relationships.

SaySo is a youth-led advocacy and leadership program in North Carolina run by youth ages 14 to 24 who have been in the out-of-home care system.

"These children have so many adults coming in and out of their lives, they don't want anyone else temporary," explained Jamaica Pfister, director of business development and advocacy at Children's Home Society of North Carolina, a partner of SaySo. "They want mentors to take the time and build the trust."

For that reason, many foster care children gravitate towards those who have been through the system themselves.

At SaySo, these young adults who have formerly been in care act as mentors, allowing children to talk freely about what they are going through and struggling with. The older youth help these children process what they are experiencing or work through questions and problems they may be facing.

These young adults who have been in care have a more direct understanding of their unique situation, which earns them respect from the children in care.

However, there is still a great need for a different kind of expertise: educational. Children need help not just with subject matter in school, but with preparing for school and for next steps, such as applying for college or deciding on a career and applying for jobs. They need adults who can work with them on homework and applications and provide guidance throughout.

"Their social workers are often too overwhelmed, so it's easier [for the social workers] to just do the work themselves," Pfister explained. "But that's not what the kids need. They need someone to hold their hands and help them work through the process; guide them, but not do it for them."

They need positive relationships with adults who are invested in their success like the mentors at SaySo.

"A mentor is someone who invests their time, energy and resources into you to help you to bloom from a place of drought," said Megan Holmes, a SaySo Alumni. "They water your life with love, support, strength and empowerment to help you stand tall through life's obstacles."

A supportive, skill-building relationship is one most take for granted, but for children in foster care, it is one they crave. Mentorship can make all the difference when it comes to foster children letting their early adversity impact them for life and bouncing back from the instability of their childhoods and becoming the people they were always meant to be.

This article was written for our sponsor, Children's Home Society of North Carolina.