Late Sunday night, CNN’s homepage headline took a break from politics. Instead, the news organization led with “Thousands of cars form lines to collect food in Texas” The accompanying photograph was of those cars, as they waited their turn at a food bank in Dallas.
The article and imagery serve as an important reminder as we head into Thanksgiving and the holiday season. People - families - are struggling. COVID-19, the lockdowns and the economic uncertainty have affected everyone, but the financial impacts have been felt harder by some. And as much as we would like for this year and this pandemic to be behind us, it just isn’t.
If you have the ability to give this holiday season, please do - whether to the R.J. Leonard Foundation, another organization or a friend/family you know personally. 2020 is not the year to sit out on kindness and generosity.
At the R.J. Leonard Foundation, we employ the Positive Youth Development (PYD) approach in our work with Fellows. This nationally recognized model is, as executive director Joelle Pitts puts it, “more than a strengths based approach.” We virtually sat down with Joelle recently to give you a better understanding of the approach and its use at the Foundation.
What is your history with Positive Youth Development (PYD)?
I was introduced to PYD in 2004 when working at a group home for girls. I immediately felt that this was an approach that aligned with my beliefs and values, and to top it off, my professional mentor was highly respected within the PYD field. He frequently wrote and presented on the topic and was also a leader in introducing the concept at a national level (PYD is now a required programming component to receive RHY federal grant funding).
I have since trained on PYD regionally and nationally, and implemented it in programming in multiple settings including a youth shelter, independent living programs and housing programs.
What are the key elements of Positive Youth Development?
PYD is a mindset and a belief that young people are whole and not broken. There are four key elements. They are:
When truly treated like a partner, young people feel valued as a person and as the expert in their own life. This makes them more likely to trust and build meaningful relationships. They begin to see strengths in themselves and can see how to connect those strengths to meaningful goals. Young people learn that their voice matters and that they can impact their lives and communities. All this builds self worth, a belief in a better future and the internal motivation needed to overcome the many barriers they face
What impact does adopting a PYD approach have on the professionals working with youth and young adults?
Employing PYD can be uncomfortable at first for professionals. We train adults to think they can and should control young people and that controlling them is in their best interest. Some people struggle to let that false sense of control go.
However, adults that embrace this approach tend to have deep, meaningful connections to young people. They build trust more quickly and are better at helping young people problem solve and goal plan.
How does the R.J. Leonard Foundation incorporate PYD into its work with young adults aging out of the foster care system?
Everything we do at RJLF is rooted in PYD and therefore is very intentional, individualized, strengths-based and meaningful. For example:
This year has been filled with a great deal of firsts and, even more so, the unexpected. Last Friday was no different. We held our first RJLF virtual gala on October 9 at 6 p.m. Although we had a few technical difficulties, we got through it with a great deal of heart, fun and teamwork.
That was our first.
What was unexpected was the incredible generosity from all of you. Your donations, whether in the form of a standard donation, ticket order or auction bid, surpassed not just our goal but our dreams as well. We cannot thank you enough for your ongoing support of our mission and, more importantly, our Fellows.
We hope to be with you in person next year, but if we’re not, we know that being together online and in heart will be more than enough.
Join the R.J. Leonard Foundation for its virtual gala Heart for Change: Together in Heart on Friday October 9th from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.!
The R.J. Leonard Foundation (RJLF) works with young adults aging out of the foster care system in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, offering them financial support as needed for education, transportation and social/cultural needs. Most importantly, however, RJLF is a mentorship program. The young adults connected with the program - Fellows - are matched with adults in their community. Together, the Fellows and Mentors work to make possible the Fellows’ career and educational goals, while fostering a lifelong relationship.
Through mentorship, RJLF works to disprove the statistics about youth aging out of the foster care system. Statistics that say only 3% will graduate from college; 20% will experience homelessness; and 49% of youth aging out of foster care will do so without a connection to family.
“RJLF really does help you pursue whatever it is you’re passionate about. I have also always felt safe being able to communicate and problem solve with them. It’s a truly special and non-judgmental zone and relationship. RJLF is a family to me, and I to them,” reflects one Fellow.
In the 11 years since RJLF’s inception, the Foundation has worked with 25 young adults as they have striven to earn their degrees and move onto fulfilling and financially freeing careers. Help us continue our work by donating and/or joining us at our virtual gala Heart for Change: Together in Heart. The one-hour event will include testimonials from Fellows, entertainment and access to a live and silent auction.
The R.J. Leonard Foundation knows that with the right resources, help and caring, every story - no matter how it starts - can end in success.
To purchase tickets or make a donation, visit https://e.givesmart.com/events/hZ0/.
September 10 is International Suicide Prevention Day.
As of 2017, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 34. What’s more, it is estimated that youth in foster care are almost three times as likely as the general population to have had suicidal ideations.
At the R.J. Leonard Foundation, we are committed to providing our Mentors and Fellows with the information and resources they need to seek help and/or offer appropriate support. We believe that training, awareness and knowledge can make a difference.
Suicide is preventable. Be a part of the prevention.
Transitioning to college is challenging for all students but can be even more so for youth in foster care. They may lack the support, the finances and the experiences needed to best navigate the complex systems of higher education. Imagine trying to figure out FAFSA on your own for the first time or even the fourth time. It is no surprise, then, that the graduation rate of youth who are or were in foster care is extremely low - only 3% will earn a college degree.
Recognizing the unique needs of this population, professionals within the child welfare system and higher education have come together to develop and advocate for additional supports. While much of the advocacy is focused on the state and national levels, much of the developing supports take place in smaller settings, specifically on college campuses.
Colleges throughout Pennsylvania, for example, have worked over the past several years to not only identify a point of contact for students who are or were in foster care, but to also create programs that increase retention and academic success. Penn State launched the Fostering Lions Program, which aims to assist foster youth with the financial, academic, logistical and social/emotional aspects of college, for instance. While these programs have only been in place for a short period of time, schools have reported an increase in retention. It is hoped that further bolstering these supports will help change that 3% to a much higher number.
At RJLF, we are proud to know that many of our Fellows are attending colleges dedicated to helping youth in foster care, including but not limited to West Chester University, Cabrini University, Penn State, Temple University and Montgomery County Community College.
To find out more about what colleges in our area offer youth in foster care, click here.
When the lockdowns first began, headlines predicted that this was an opportunity for fathers to step up to the plate. They, too, could tackle childcare while working from home, proving to their partners that they were, in fact, partners.
However, nearly 6 months later, the data tells a different story. Mothers are overwhelmingly the ones who shouldered the burden, taking time off from work and/or stepping away from their careers to care for their kids and navigate online learning. Many who could not take time off worked nights and weekends to compensate for lost hours during the day. What has resulted, due to this and other factors, is a notable decline in female participation in the workforce and a notable increase in motherhood stressors.
Now, imagine what this has been like for single mothers. Taking time off when you are the sole provider is not an option but neither is leaving your kids home alone all day or night while you work. A step back from other responsibilities to care for always-at-home children may mean opting out of a promotion or taking a break from school. This can significantly impact the finances of a household - present and future.
At RJLF, many of our Fellows are single mothers. While they have been nothing short of awe-inspiring throughout the past several months, they have also struggled. And the pandemic isn’t over yet. Click here to find out how you can support these moms as they continue forward in the new normal as professionals, students and mothers.
We’ve shared with you one young person’s experience of aging out during the COVID-19 pandemic and last week highlighted the advocacy efforts that are aimed at securing additional funding and support for young adults in foster care. This week, let’s look at the numbers.
A recent national survey of youth ages 18 to 23 who are in or have aged out of foster care looked to find out just how COVID-19 has impacted the population. The results aren’t surprising. 72% of those surveyed said that their financial situation would be stable for no more than one month. 67% stated that the pandemic was impacting their educational progress, and 55% reported being food insecure as a result of COVID-19. As for mental health, more than half reported clinically-significant levels of depression and/or anxiety.
COVID-19 has been challenging for all of us, but it is fair to say that some populations have been more deeply affected than others - including youth in foster care. To help them, we need to ensure that services and resources are widely available and accessible. If you haven’t yet, check out the #UpChafee movement. And in the meantime, check in with the youth you know. Reaching out may seem like a small act, but it carries with it a huge impact.
When COVID-19 first took hold of the United States, those working with and for youth in foster care (not to mention youth in foster care) knew that special attention would be needed to help this population through the pandemic. In particular, transition-age youth - those on the cusp of adulthood - would need a safety net to help ensure their needs were met ongoing. And so, the #UpChafee Campaign was started.
Chafee services are federally mandated services offered to youth who are or were in foster care on or after their 14th birthday. The programs are designed to help prepare the youth for their transition to adulthood by teaching them a variety of life skills and offering assistance with education, employment and housing, as possible.
The #UpChafee campaign advocated for additional support for transition-age youth by extending foster care supports and increasing funding for the Chafee services already in place. On August 7, that campaign took one huge step forward. Representatives Danny Davis (D-Ill) and Jackie Walorski (R-In.) introduced the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act. The legislation would, among other things, provide $400 million in funding for FY2020 and place a moratorium on aging out of foster care due to age during the pandemic.
While the introduction of a bill with bipartisan support is a great sign, it is not the conclusion of the #UpChafee Campaign. More needs to be done to help pass the legislation - and that more includes you. Contact your state representatives. Urge them to support the bill. Speak out about the needs of transition-age youth and the impact COVID-19 has and will continue to have on them. These youth deserve our help.