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 some past relationships with adults. This history, combined with the transition of adults in and out of their lives, may leave them hesitant to form close relationships. If mentors are to be a constant, caring support for the youth, they must be dependable and commit to meeting regularly. Our program is different in that we ask for commitment to the youth to be a reliable person they can count on long after our program is over.
▪ 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 encounter challenges in forming relationships with youth and in interfacing with other services youth are receiving.
▪ Delivering services can be tricky — The unfortunate reality is that foster youth are highly transitory. They may move frequently from placement to placement, which can make meeting difficult and can challenge support and monitoring systems. Ability to plan around uncertainty is key.
▪ Mentoring should connect with clinical support— Mentoring is most effective 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 extensive experience working with foster youth in a professional context. Clinicians can help a program address special needs, share valuable information with mentors that can help the match succeed, provide access to additional resources, and enhance training of volunteers. (North & Ingram, 2003).
Foster Kids United volunteers can play an important role in mentoring foster youth, applying their unique assets and skills.
You can make a difference
Mentors can offer:
★ Adequate time and youth focus— Given the need for consistency and availability in serving foster youth, Mentors are required to focus on intensive and direct support for youth.
★ Flexible schedules — Many mentors struggle to fit mentoring into work and other demands. Good Mentors often have flexible schedules that increase their availability to youth and their ability to be involved in events that happen during work hours, such as family court appearances, school events, and clinical services.
★ Life experience — Mentors have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom they can share with a young person. They can offer perspective, a sense of history, and a level of understanding about some issues. Many Mentors have been active in their communities for a long time, and have a wealth of relationships and community connections to offer foster youth.