Mentoring Children In Foster Care - AmeriCorps

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Mentoring Childrenin Foster Care:Considerations and Partnership Strategiesfor Senior Corps Directors

Mentoring Children in Foster Care: Considerationsand Partnership Strategies for Senior Corps DirectorsThis document was created by LEARNS, a partnership of theNorthwest Regional Educational Laboratory and the BankStreet College of Education. It is based on work sponsored bythe Corporation for National and Community Service underCooperative Agreement Number 01CAOR0034. Permission toreproduce in whole or in part for use by educational, nationalservice, or other not-for-profit groups is granted.For more information, contact:LEARNS at the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory101 SW Main Street, Suite 500Portland, OR 97204800-361-7890learns@nwrel.orgLEARNS at Bank Street College of Education610 West 112th StreetNew York, NW 10025800-930-5664learns@bnkst.eduVisit LEARNS on the Web at:www.nationalserviceresources/sites/learns

Table of ContentsI. Introduction . 1II. The Needs of Foster Youth and How Senior Corps Can Help. 1III. Identifying Potential Partners . 6IV. Assessing the Mentor Station’s Fit With Senior Corps . 8V. Coordinating Roles and Responsibilities . 11VI. Placing Senior Corps Volunteers as Mentors to Foster Youth . 12VII. Conclusion . 14References. 15Additional Reading and Resources. 15

I. IntroductionChildren in foster care are among our nation’s most vulnerable young people.Many have been abused or neglected, resulting in a host of emotional anddevelopmental needs. Because they may experience frequent transitions andinstability, foster children can benefit tremendously from the attention of mature,caring adults who serve as mentors. Senior volunteers may be particularly wellsuited to mentor foster children. The Senior Corps program resonates with theparticular needs of foster youth, and the Corporation has prioritized expandingthe number of senior volunteers serving foster youth in schools, after-schoolprograms, community-based organizations, and other settings.This toolkit is designed to help Senior Corps directors recruit, train, and placevolunteers in mentoring programs serving foster youth. It can also help youidentify and establish productive partnerships with mentoring programs and otheragencies that are part of the foster care system. Well-coordinated servicesbetween Senior Corps and other partners will increase the positive impacts ofmentoring, enabling children to cope better with their circumstances andtransition more successfully into adulthood.II. The Needs of Foster Youth and How Senior CorpsCan HelpRecent data indicate that there are over half a million children in our nation'sfoster care system. Over half these youth are between the ages of 6 and 15,when the influence of positive role models and developmental support is critical(AFCARS, 2005). Every year over 20,000 foster youth age out of the system,losing needed services and entering adulthood whether they have the skills to doso effectively or not (Casey Family Programs, 2001). While many foster youthare reunited with relatives after a short period of time, 40% of foster youth remainin the system two years or longer. The stability of home and family, so critical forsuccessful emotional, intellectual, and social development, is simply absent forlong periods of time for many foster youth.In addition to the trauma caused by the disruption to their family and homeenvironment, foster youth often have a wide variety of other serious emotionaland physical needs. Many are victims of abuse and neglect. They may havetrouble forming healthy relationships with adults and peers. Many suffer fromchronic health problems. Older foster youth may exhibit substance abuse,juvenile delinquency, or involvement in risky behaviors. Academics andeducational goals often suffer during out-of-home placement. Even the mostLEARNS1

resilient child can be thrown into a pattern of depression, self-doubt, and isolationwhen faced with the daunting world of foster care.Because of the disruption in their lives and the loss of support networks, fosteryouth need many things: a stable, safe home environment, advocacy andrepresentation in legal proceedings, academic assistance, healthcare, and stablepeer relations. But perhaps most important, foster youth need caring, supportiveadults to guide and nurture them. This is where a senior volunteer can play avaluable role.A senior mentor can be many things to a foster youth: A stable adult— Foster youth are often overwhelmed by a rotating cast ofcaseworkers, foster parents, clinicians, legal advocates, and other adults.A mentor serves as an island in the storm—a continuous presence andsource of support. A positive role model— Foster youth need positive relationships withadults they can learn from and grow with. Mentors can model appropriatebehavior, provide guidance and advice, and enable foster youth to formhealthy developmental relationships with adults they trust. A connection to other clinical and support services— While mostdecisions about services for foster youth are made by an agency casemanager, a mentor can be invaluable in referring youth to other supports,such as academic assistance, job skills and training, faith institutions,counseling, and legal support. A source of happiness— In addition to the practical roles mentionedabove, a mentor can also bring joy and fun to a foster youth’s life. Simplybringing some laughter and entertainment to a foster youth’s day can helpfoster normalcy in childhood experiences.LEARNS2

Special Considerations for Mentoring Foster YouthMost mentor programs serve youth who have emotional, developmental, oreducational needs. However, the special needs of foster care youth, and theirplacement in the foster care system itself, lead to some special considerations: Consistency is key— Foster youth have likely been hurt by some pastrelationships with adults. This history, combined with the transition of adults inand out of their lives, may leave them hesitant to form close relationships. Ifmentors are to be a constant, caring support for the youth, they must bedependable and commit to meeting regularly. Mentors need the right skills and temperament— This is true of all mentors,but it is especially so when mentoring difficult populations such as foster youth.Mentors must be patient, flexible, and resilient, as they may encounterchallenges in forming relationships with youth and in interfacing with otherservices youth are receiving. Delivering services can be tricky— The unfortunate reality is that foster youthare highly transitory. They may move frequently from placement to placement,which can make meeting difficult and can challenge support and monitoringsystems. Ability to plan around uncertainty is key. Mentoring should connect with clinical support— Mentoring is mosteffective when carried out in conjunction with other services (Jekielek, Moore, &Hair, 2002; Kuperminc et al, 2005). Because foster youth have unique needs,effective mentoring for them will be part of a coordinated treatment plan,designed by, or in partnership with, a clinician—someone with extensiveexperience working with foster youth in a professional context. Clinicians canhelp a program address special needs, share valuable information with mentorsthat can help the match succeed, provide access to additional resources, andenhance training of volunteers. (North & Ingram, 2003).LEARNS3

How Senior Corps Volunteers Can HelpSenior Corps volunteers can play an important role in mentoring foster youth,applying their unique assets and skills. Foster Grandparents, in particular, maybe particularly suited to serve as mentors to this population.Foster Grandparents can offer: Adequate time and youth focus— Given the need for consistency andavailability in serving foster youth, Foster Grandparents' required servicehours and focus on intensive and direct support for youth are good fits formentoring. Flexible schedules— Many mentors struggle to fit mentoring into workand other demands. Foster Grandparents often have flexible schedulesthat increase their availability to youth and their ability to be involved inevents that happen during work hours, such as family court appearances,school events, and clinical services. Life experience— Foster Grandparents have a wealth of knowledge andwisdom they can share with a young person. They can offer perspective, asense of history, and a level of understanding about some issues that ayounger mentor may not. As many Foster Grandparents have raised andnurtured several generations in their own families, they bring considerableknowledge about tending to a child’s needs. Community connections— Many Foster Grandparents have been activein their communities for a long time, and have a wealth of relationshipsand community connections to offer foster youth.LEARNS4

RSVP VolunteersBecause of the need to build strong one-on-one relationships, mentoring rolesshould be reserved for RSVP volunteers who can make a long-term commitment.However, episodic or short term RSVP volunteers can still contribute by focusingon building the capacity of foster youth mentoring programs. RSVP volunteers,especially baby boomers or those with specialized skills can help mentoringprograms: Identify and serve foster youth Build connections between local mentoring services and foster caresystems Recruit appropriate volunteers to work with foster youth Assist with supporting and recognizing volunteers and participants Assist with marketing and resource development effortsClearly, Senior Corps volunteers, especially Foster Grandparents, can serveeffectively in stations that support foster youth. The rest of this toolkit examineshow to identify, partner with, and begin placing volunteers in high qualityprograms serving foster youth.LEARNS5

III. Identifying Potential PartnersThe first step in connecting Senior Corps volunteers with foster youth is toidentify those in your community who are serving these children and youth. Fewmentor programs are targeted solely toward serving youth in foster care. Thatsaid, heightened awareness in recent years of the needs of foster children hasled to an increase in the number of traditional mentoring programs thatintentionally reach out to this population.Because most mentoring efforts serve at-risk youth, you should be able to find anumber of local mentoring programs that have foster care youth among theirmentees. Seek out partners in: Schools— School-based mentoring has exploded in recent years asschools can offer facilities, financial resources, and access to youth.Schools are notified when a student is placed in foster care, so schoolbased mentoring programs should be able to identify foster youth they areserving. Supplemental educational services— Services such as Head Start andafter-school programs are likely to be serving youth in foster care. Manystafter-school programs, particularly 21 Century Community LearningCenters, offer mentoring components that Senior Corps volunteers canjoin. Child welfare agencies— Foster care at the local level is governed bycounty social service agencies. Children in foster care receive a countylevel case manager who coordinates their placement and referrals to otherservices. These services may engage a host of other agencies, grouphomes, residential treatment centers, advocacy providers—such as CourtAppointed Special Advocates (CASA)—and community nonprofits thatmay offer mentoring. Contacting your county-level agency is a great placeto start in determining who is serving foster youth via mentoring in yourcommunity. Family courts— Some family courts have established partnerships withcommunity-based mentoring programs to provide stable adult support foryouth transitioning through the system. Faith-based organizations— Communities of worship often providementoring and other services to children in out-of-home placementsituations.LEARNS6

Keep in mind that mentor programs may serve foster youth in a variety of ways,depending upon the needs and ages of the children, as well as the focus of theagency. Mentors for foster youth can offer: Academic assistance— Children often fall behind in school when theyenter the foster care system. Mentors can help children stay on trackacademically as well as advocate for them with school personnel. Transition assistance— Programs serving older foster youth often focuson independent living skills, vocational training and guidance, access tohigher education, housing, and other services that help ease the transitionout of foster care. Emotional and developmental support— Some programs simplyprovide foster youth with emotional support and a positive adult rolemodel. They focus on helping the youth build a healthy relationship withan adult, often in conjunction with clinical support.No two programs offer the exact same services to foster youth. Learning moreabout the type of mentoring local programs provide can help Senior Corpsdirectors make the most appropriate volunteer placements.LEARNS7

IV. Assessing the Mentor Station’s Fit with Senior CorpsOnce you have found organizations that mentor foster youth in your community,you'll need to determine if they would be a good match for the goals of SeniorCorps. As with any station, foster mentoring opportunities should be assessed forquality and alignment with FGP priorities and volunteer requirements.Characteristics of High Quality Foster Mentor ServicesAs mentioned previously, there are special considerations to mentoring fosteryouth. Ask about and look for the following effective practices: Clinical support— Mentor programs serving foster youth should haveavailable the support of a clinician, who can assist Senior Corpsvolunteers with the more complicated aspects of serving foster youth. Partnerships with other appropriate agencies— Because foster careyouth are highly transitory and engaged with many service providers,programs must have partnerships with foster care and child welfareagencies that allow them to identify, track, and coordinate serviceseffectively. Involvement of foster families or group-home staff— Effectiveprograms bring care providers into the web of support they provide, andcommunicate with those providing out-of-home care for foster youth.Mentors need to communicate with foster parents, especially if problemsarise in the relationship. Clear volunteer position descriptions— Because of the challenges ofmentoring foster youth, it is especially important that programs bring theright volunteers to the table. Work with programs to develop positiondescriptions that highlight the need for serving these youth and articulatethe personal characteristics and level of commitment needed. Appropriate screening measures— Gear screening around safety andthe suitability of the volunteer to the position.LEARNS8

Appropriate pre-service training— Volunteers working with foster youthwill need more extensive training than those in most mentoring programs.In addition to relationship-building strategies, mentors of foster care youthwill need special training in: Understanding the foster care systemUnderstanding the special emotional, physical, and developmental needsof foster youthTalking about abuse and other difficult topicsSetting boundariesConfidentiality (especially if they are working with other care providers)Handling crisis situationsDealing with reluctant menteesWorking with other providersWorking with foster parentsReferring youth to other servicesAsking for help: Knowing when and whom to ask Preparation of mentees— Foster youth may be reluctant to formrelationships with adults. Pre-match mentee orientation can help themunderstand the role of a mentor and how this person differs from the othernew adults in their life. Ensure that the program you partner with providesmentee orientation and training. Appropriate mentoring activities— In general, activities for mentoringfoster youth should: Broaden their experienceProvide opportunities not otherwise offered by the foster care systemCounteract the effects of institutionalizationReduce stigmatization of foster careProvide learning experiences (both educational and related totransitioning out of foster care)(North & Ingram) Systems for monitoring and supporting matches— Effective programshave systems in place that allow them to track youth as they movethrough the system, monitor the progress of the match, and offer supportand ongoing training when issues arise. Volunteers may need extrasupport and the assistance of a clinician when mentoring foster youth. A closure process— Foster youth’s mentoring relationships can end for avariety of reasons—they are reunited with their family, they are placed in anew home, they age out of the system, or, the match simply wasn’tworking. Effective programs have a closure process that makes youth andvolunteers feel good about the experience and what was achieved.LEARNS9

Program evaluation— Successful mentoring programs evaluate bothinternal processes and youth outcomes. Outcomes tracked should beclear, measurable, and appropriate to the population served (successfulindependent living, improved perceptions of self, improved peer relations,reduced delinquency, etc.).Gauging the Fit with Senior CorpsAs with all stations, look for a good fit between the program’s goals and systemsand the requirements FGP (and RSVP) guidelines. Be sure to look for: Compatibility of volunteer time requirements— Foster Grandparents’hourly requirements and flexible schedules make them an ideal fit for sucha placement. Because of the transient nature of foster youth, however, besure to consider transportation issues. Missions and goals— The youth-serving values and goals of FosterGrandparents make them a good fit for most foster youth mentoringprograms. The ability of the station to support Senior Corps volunteers—Ensure that the station can offer volunteers the support they need to makementoring foster youth a successful and enjoyable experience for them.Once you have determined that your local mentoring programs serving fosteryouth are up to the task and a good fit for your volunteers, you can move on toconsidering how the partnership will work.LEARNS10

V. Coordinating Roles and ResponsibilitiesAs with all stations, it is important to spell out the details of your partnership in aformal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). An MOU can help coordinateservices and delineate responsibilities between your office and the volunteerstation. Specific to foster care mentoring, be sure to examine: Recruitment of volunteers— Who will take the lead in findingappropriate senior volunteers to serve as mentors? Who is developing theposition descriptions and coordinating marketing of volunteeropportunities? Pre-match training of volunteers— How much training will you provideand how much will the program provide? Senior volunteers working withfoster youth will need careful preparation and your MOU should articulatehow that will happen. Monitoring and supervision of matches— Determine who isresponsible for tracking the activities matches engage in and progressthey make toward goals. The MOU should include how data gets sharedand how volunteers are supported. Connect

Special Considerations for Mentoring Foster Youth . Most mentor programs serve youth who have emotional, developmental, or educational needs. However, the special needs of foster care youth, and their placement in the foster care system itself, lead to some special considerations: Consistency is key — Foster youth have likely been hurt by .

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