Disparities are exacerbated during crises. Long before COVID-19, young people in foster care and those who have aged out have been disproportionately impacted by health challenges, unemployment, homelessness and social isolation. While we’re all at risk to the virus and we’ve been instructed to stay at home, it is important to recognize two facts: the most vulnerable among us are the most at risk, and staying at home is a privilege. In the face of this pandemic, Silver Lining Mentoring’s work is more critical than ever before.
Many assume that youth in foster care are living with foster families, yet the reality throughout the United States is that there aren’t enough foster families and many young people in foster care grow up in institutional settings. The vast majority of youth participants at Silver Lining are not living with foster families. Here is what we’re seeing for the two largest groups of young people we serve:
Youth in congregate care
The majority of young people we serve at Silver Lining who are under eighteen years old live in congregate care. That is, group homes and residential treatment facilities that house dozens of youth living in close quarters who are supervised by staff cycling in and out on shifts. The heightened health risk under these conditions is evident.Youth in congregate care can’t easily leave the premises under typical conditions and at present there is no leaving at all. Young people can’t have visitors and they lack access to resources and human connections outside of their facility. Few such programs are prepared with the technology and staffing to connect youth with the outside world, including their schools. It isn’t uncommon for one computer to be shared by more than 12 youth, all of whom may go to different schools with different expectations for educational engagement during this time. Congregate care settings are experiencing staffing shortages and the underlying mental health issues of young people living in these settings can be triggered by extreme isolation – living under these conditions can feel like living in a pressure cooker.
Young people who have aged out of foster care
After turning 18 years old, young adults who age out of foster care frequently find themselves struggling to find security and stability. This struggle has never been more real than it is now. As millions of Americans file for unemployment, youth who have aged out of foster care face grave circumstances and overwrought public assistance programs to help meet their basic needs. At a recent national town hall virtual meeting sponsored by Think of Us, older youth in foster care identified the following top 10 needs (in order of how often they were raised):
3. Healthcare (mental health, testing, insurance, etc.)
4. Tech (access to laptops, internet, wifi, etc.)
5. Financial Assistance (bills, reimbursements, etc.)
6. Employment and loss of income
8. Education (moving out of college dorms, online resources, graduating)
9. Household supplies
SLM has streamlined our organizational priorities to focus on the most critical needs during the pandemic – meeting emergency needs and fostering connections. Silver Lining’s mentors and staff are lifelines for our young people – we are committed to staying in close communication and have invested in new resources and technology to make this possible.
Since early March, Silver Lining has been:
- Providing emergency financial support to young people for critical expenses like rent, food, utilities, cell phone service and healthcare.
- Responding to requests to distribute laptops and ChromeBooks to SLM youth for keeping up with school/work, lifeskills learning and connecting with SLM mentors and staff.
- Conducting our mentor training via a customized online Learning Management System to increase accessibility and enroll new mentors through a digital process.
- Keeping mentors and mentees connected through technology and virtual platforms.
- Providing technical assistance to other mentoring programs and foster care providers on best practices so that more youth in foster care throughout the country can benefit from mentoring relationships.
- Engaging our pre-established Participant Advisory Board of young adult leaders to hear their concerns and ideas for how young people can take action, support one another and educate the larger community.
- Creating a GoogleSite as a platform for our matches to access reliable COVID-related resources, an avenue to share their voices, and ideas for ways to stay connected & engaged.
- Connecting our young adults and mentors to critical community supports in the areas of housing and shelter, food and basic needs and health and wellness.
- Donate: In addition to continuing our mentoring services, SLM is sending direct monetary support for emergency needs to help our young people pay rent and utilities, keep cell phone service, buy food, diapers, medical supplies, etc. Donate Securely Now.
- Become a Volunteer Mentor: We are now conducting our entire mentor screening and training process online and supporting mentors in connecting virtually. Mentoring requires just 8 hours per month, on your schedule. We have young people on our waiting list who are eager to be matched with a mentor and the need for connection is only growing. Learn more about how to become a Volunteer Mentor.
- Recommend Someone: Suggest someone who would make a great mentor by filling out this form and/or by emailing them this page right now:
- Share Your Skills: We can utilize volunteers through virtual panel discussions, webinars or e-learning. If you have a skill or area of knowledge that you could share with youth or mentors, please be in touch by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Spread the Word: Talk to your network and re-post SLM posts, and share this page right now:
- Refer a Youth: Do you know a youth who would benefit from a caring, long-term mentor? Learn more about referring a youth here.
Thank you for your support of young people in foster care – stay safe and be well!
We are grateful for the many ways our generous community is stepping up to support Silver Lining’s young people! Here are the best ways to help during this time: