For National Foster Care Month, let’s take a moment to debunk some of the misconceptions about what youth in foster care actually need.
* Young people need a supportive adult. Sometimes, older youth in foster care are no longer looking for adoptive parents, but instead, a stable adult to rely upon. At HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services, we create opportunities for youth in high school and college to connect with adults who will always be there to offer advice and guidance. From apartment hunting in New York City to choosing the right college, youth in care – like many young adults in their 20s – need help navigating the challenges of adulthood. You can be that supportive adult.
* Young people need a safe space. Youth in foster care have been moved around many times. There’s little that’s stable in their lives. They need a safe space to talk about the traumatic things that have happened to them. HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services addresses that with our therapeutic mental health services, but we’ve also created a space where young people can discuss anything, including institutional racism and their hopes and challenges. We don’t just want “success stories.” We want to know who our children are as human beings. You can be a part of that safe space by attending foster care youth development workshops and forums.
* Young people need an education. Less than 10 percent of kids in foster care graduate from college. Many of us were fortunate to discuss college applications, financial aid and many of the other nuances of the college admission process and campus life with family members. We also had a family to put us through school or at least, help us take out student loans. HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services developed the American Dream Program to help young men and women in foster care achieve their college and career dreams. You can support programs like these with a financial donation.
* Young people need a network. Much like higher education opportunities that we may have taken for granted, kids in foster care don’t have a professional network to advance themselves. We continue to develop a community of people, including our junior board and community volunteers, who are professionals in health care, education, law, criminal justice and finance, and who take the time to talk one-on-one with our youth. You can be a mentor to a young person or offer an internship.
To consider helping a young person in any of these ways, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your love and compassion, as well as professional expertise and connections can transform a young person’s life.
Dawn Saffayeh is executive director of HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services, helping more than 6,000 New York children, adults and families to overcome the challenges of family crises, addiction, mental illness and poverty.