THE FOSTER CARE COMMUNITy
This month, we met at the Buda Library for our first Lunch and Learn of 2020. Austin Angels offers quarterly Lunch and Learns to the volunteers participating in our programs. These intimate gatherings are a great opportunity for our volunteers to come together, ask questions and hear from guest speakers around topics like the foster care system, trauma informed care, mentorship and more.
This month's speaker was Tym Belseth, a researcher from the University of Texas who has intensely studied and personally experienced the Texas foster care system. Tym shared his experience in the system, from entering at age 14, moving from shelters to foster homes, and eventually aging out at 18.
He told heartbreaking stories about how his worst nights of sleep, even after being homeless, were in a group home where a stranger shined a flashlight in his eyes every hour to make sure he was alive. He spoke into the idea that the foster system is a lonely, dark place for children, especially teenagers, and that they usually end up running away and are at great risk of being trafficked. Tym reminded our volunteers that the foster care crisis leads into many other societal issues such as homelessness, high school dropouts and teen pregnancy.
Though some of his experiences were hard to hear, Tym did give us a greater hope for our foster care system. He shared about how important it is for all people, especially kids in care, to have “social capital” - Tym defined this as close social relationships where people feel compassion, genuine connection and consent. These three things are vital to forming healthy, unbreakable bonds between people and these bonds are critical for human development.
According to the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW) at the University of Minnesota, “In recent years, emotional and relational permanence have been introduced as concepts that are equally important [to legal permanence, such as the reunification, adoption or legal guardianship]. Research findings indicate that the benefits for youth of being connected to supportive adults have positive, long-term effects on the youth’s social, psychological, and financial outcomes, including improved self-esteem, educational achievement, and social skill development.”
Unfortunately, young people in foster care have had less overall emotional, social and financial support than the general population, and are at a greater risk to have physical, emotional and behavioral problems that lead to negative outcomes. These youth are more likely to experience homelessness, early pregnancy, jail time, unemployment, and poverty, and they are also at a higher risk for mental health issues like depression and suicide.
"Feedback from many former foster youth indicates
Our Dare to Dream Program was created to match aged-out or at-risk to age out foster youth (ages ranging from 11-22) with healthy adults who will help them navigate life's challenges and prepare them for adulthood. Our mentors are advocates, teachers, guides, role models, valued friends, and available resources. They meet practical and emotional needs as well as provide guidance through different developmental milestones. We tell mentors that the simple act of telling their youth “I believe in you,” “You are special,” and “You are going to do great things” can change their path completely.
Rachael, a Dare to Dream mentor, said of her experiences in the program and this month’s Lunch and Learn:
“I’ve committed my heart, time and love to a 13-year-old soul in our foster care system. I’ve mentored this special young lady for about four years now and within that time she’s been in and out of numerous homes and institutions. My goal: be the CONSISTENT in her life and I commit to this promise. To hear [Tym’s] perspective really gifted me with, as Oprah says, ‘ah, ha moments’ and inspired me to use my time with her to the maximum benefit. The success of these children is highly connected to relational permanency...high quality relationships, as noted by Tym and his team.”
Thank you Tym and Rachael for sharing your experiences, wisdom, and advice with our volunteers and our team!