Congress Blog

For youth in foster care, mentors matter

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Every day, young people in foster care face important decisions about their education, home placements and family connections. Many foster youth are moved from living situation to living situation and the relationships they've built with their biological and foster families, teachers and other caring adults are disrupted, leaving the transported foster youth to start from scratch.

We've spent our personal and professional lives working to create supports necessary for young people in the foster care system to thrive. For the past seven years, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth has brought current and former foster youth to Capitol Hill to shadow their own member of Congress and share their experiences within the child welfare system. Throughout our work, we've consistently heard from foster youth that mentors matter and they're right; a committed mentor can have a positive and permanent effect in any person's emotional, social and developmental well-being.

Young people in foster care sometimes feel isolated from their peers and adults, and the presence of a well-trained mentor can help them reconnect and build relationships. Many young people in foster care experience trauma that may contribute to unhealthy mental and physical outcomes, academic underachievement, substance use and homelessness. We know that young people in foster care are resilient, but they could also benefit from someone by their side through their challenges and triumphs.

We also know that young people who are aging out of foster care are too often left without the resources, social capital and support for their transition to the responsibilities of adulthood. Mentors play a critical role in guiding youth through job interviews, securing first apartments, serving as emergency contacts, and being the adult that a young person texts at 3 a.m.

Every young person deserves that consistency and compassion, which is why we are re-introducing a bipartisan bill that can scale best practices for mentoring foster youth and expand the presence of mentors in the lives of young people.

As co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, we see an opportunity to support foster youth with an investment in resources, recruitment and training of mentors. Our bill addresses the need for greater support of mentoring programs that serve youth in foster care by authorizing funds for mentoring programs that are currently engaged in or developing quality mentoring standards in screening volunteers, matching process and ultimately successful mentoring relationships. It will ensure that mentors are trained in child development, family dynamics, cultural competence, the child welfare system and other important factors that enable long-lasting and strong relationships. The bill also increases coordination between mentoring programs, child welfare systems and community organizations so that the systems serving young people are working together to help foster youth flourish.

We invite our congressional colleagues to join us in supporting mentoring relationships for foster youth. Our young people are counting on us. 

Congressmember Karen Bass represents parts of Los Angeles and Culver City in Congress and Congressman Don Bacon represents the eastern portion of Nebraska in Congress. Both are co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth.

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