Teens leave foster care with help from Mentoring Spirit

January 20, 2010

UAA study cited in the following KTUU report by Rhonda McBride on Jan. 15, 2010

A group of teens coming out of foster care are trying to pass on more than just knowledge at a new workshop they have created for volunteer role models.

The second word of the workshop’s name, Mentoring Spirit, is an acronym. “S” stands for success, “P” for prosperity, “I” for independence, “R” for respect, “I” for integrity and “T” for tolerance.

The sessions are meant to produce mentors full of spirit. Their trainers are some true experts — young people who have been through the system. Their childhoods were in constant upheaval from foster home to foster home.

“You walk inside to see a social worker sitting on a couch with a bag full of your belongings,” Amanda Metivier told a group, during an exercise in which participants imagine themselves as foster children. In preparation to be moved to a new home, they’re asked to symbolically put notes listing everything they give up in a plastic garbage bag.

This pattern of loss seems to be the one constant for many children in foster care. Metivier grew up in foster care. Her advocacy group, Facing Foster Care in Alaska, has about 140 members — young people who grew up in foster care, who want to reform the system. Forty-two percent (of foster-care children) move at least three times within the first year,” Metivier said. “And these guys could tell you too, if you want to take a moment to talk with them.”

“I think my count was 29,” said Cody Behr, 18, who grew up in foster care.

“I was in 25 different placements,” said Slade Martin, 21, who also grew up in foster care, but became homeless after he aged out of the system. “When I first left care, it was a month before my 19th birthday. You feel like you have all these people there for you. And the next day, I’m alone.”

“Eleven or 12,” said Fherron Hines, 20, formerly in foster care.

“I’m in my 24th placement right now,” said Rebecca Shier, 19, whose current foster parent is Metivier.

A series of stark statistics from a University of Alaska Anchorage study reflect the upheavals of foster life.

According to the Alaska Foster Care Alumni Study, 73 percent of foster children wind up on public assistance after leaving foster care. Forty percent are homeless within a year of leaving foster care, 43 percent wind up in the criminal justice system, and 78 percent receive no help in planning their future beyond foster care.

“When you look at those statistics and bring them all together, it paints a very bleak picture, said Mike Saville, director of Alaska Community Services, which is developing the pilot program.

Read the full report and watch the video on the KTUU Channel 2 Web site.

The full study by the UAA School of Social Work can be downloaded here in PDF format.

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