In honor of Father’s Day, we wanted to share with you the video below about the impact a foster father had on his foster son. Allow this story to remind you that every child is one caring adult - regardless of that adult’s role, gender, age, etc. - from being a success story.
This week, 25 states announced that they will end the additional $300 unemployment benefit early.
Individuals who have been receiving unemployment benefits through the pandemic have received additional funds as a result of the stimulus bills passed, most recently through the American Rescue Plan. The extra $300 per week allotted by the American Rescue Plan was scheduled to end on September 6. Instead, the first of the 25 states will discontinue the benefit on June 12. Many do so with the belief that this will help end the labor shortage reported most prominently in the hospitality industry.
However, is $300 a week actually keeping potential employees at home? Experts say it’s unlikely, particularly when you take into consideration other factors like health concerns and childcare (hybrid and virtual learning remain commonplace). And there is always the probability that - when faced with more than a year without a job - potential employees looked or are looking to other industries.
But even if $300 is enough to delay an individual’s return to work, isn’t that its own cause for concern? Because yes - $300 is more than you would earn weekly working full-time, earning minimum wage in, say, Pennsylvania. How is that enough? We all know what it costs to live in Bucks and Montgomery Counties.
Perhaps, then, we need to think less about an added unemployment benefit and more about how we can help individuals no matter their job be self-sufficient and financially stable in our economy.
Staying home this past year has been harder for some than others. This is particularly true for youth who identify as LGBTQ+. A recent survey by The Trevor Project found that COVID-19 made living situations more stressful for more than 80% of LGBTQ youth, with only a third of the respondents reporting that they lived in an LGBTQ-affirming home. Unsurprisingly, the survey also indicated that LGBTQ youth struggled with their mental health in 2020 - with 70% of surveyed youth stating that their mental health has been poor always or most of the time through the pandemic.
These survey results serve as a stark reminder that while our society has taken steps toward being more open and inclusive, we still have miles to go, with perhaps the most work to be done inside the homes of young people who identify as LGBTQ+.
Until every person - regardless of age - who identifies as LGBTQ+ feels safe, seen, accepted and loved in their own homes, in their families and in their communities, we as allies cannot truly take pride in our Pride Month celebrations.
I’m starting to struggle with my depression, but it’s fine. Don’t worry. We’re all going through something.
These words or variations thereof have been spoken by multiple Fellows over the past months. As the weight of 2020 and, still, 2021 bear down on them, they find that their mental health is increasingly challenged. We all do. However, they are also quick to dismiss their struggles, so often pointing to the fact that they are not alone in them.
And it’s true. Even before the pandemic, an ever increasing number of children, young adults and adults reported mental health issues. The events of 2020 simply amplified them. Yet, it’s irresponsible to allow the prevalence and, in many ways, the normalizing of mental health to minimize the experience of an individual. Depression, anxiety or any other form/symptom of mental illness should be properly addressed, properly acknowledged - regardless of whether or not your neighbor and your neighbor’s neighbor are also struggling.
May is Mental Health Awareness month. Let’s spend this time not only normalizing the fact that millions struggle with mental health but also normalizing the idea that everyone deserves help when needed.
This past weekend, the nation celebrated the moms in our lives. We at the R.J. Leonard Foundation are honored to know a large number of wonderful mothers, including many of our amazing Fellows, Mentors, Board Members, staff and community partners. We were thrilled to celebrate them.
However, in recognizing moms we must also remember to see them for who they truly are and who they have had to be this past year. The COVID-19 pandemic has weighed heavily on mothers and will continue to do so even as we navigate the hopeful end. It has stretched mothers to their limits in terms of time, exhaustion, stress and mental health. In short, moms are not okay.
So, as the week after Mother’s Day stretches on and in the weeks that follow, we encourage you to reach out to the moms in your life, not with flowers and a card but with - in the words of said moms - your listening ears on. Ask them how they are, ask them how you can help, and ask them to be honest.
We’ll be doing that at the Foundation, because without RJLF’s moms, whether they are Fellows, Mentors, Board Members, staff or community partners, we would be so much less.
Young people in foster care often have no choice but to pack their belongings in a few trash bags as they are moved from their parent/guardian’s home to a placement - or as they are moved from one placement to the next. This image of children lugging their clothes in large Hefty bags to temporary homes has spawned efforts by organizations and individuals to provide duffel bags full of necessities for those in care.
However, having a bag more permanent than a trash bag is an answer for only the most visible problem. It is still a bag that a child must fill up when their time is up.
Youth in foster care are forced to become accustomed to living in the temporary as opposed to the permanent. Few, particularly those who are teenagers, are adopted or find homes that they can remain in long-term. As a result, youth in foster care often only have enough belongings to fit into a bag - trash or duffel - and that habit of minimalism by necessity can stick with them into adulthood.
May is National Foster Care Month. Let’s spend this month finding ways to help youth in foster care and the young adults who have aged out of the system put down roots, so that they can have the opportunity - and the stability - to fill more than a bag.
May 1 is National College Decision Day - the day when high school seniors throughout the country have to commit to a school for the fall semester. The decision is a challenging one, based not only on academics and cost but also on distance from home and from friends, environment, athletics and more. Seniors and their families have a lot to consider.
Seniors without family support have even more to consider. Imagine a soon-to-be or newly 18 year old preparing to graduate this June. If they are also preparing to age out of the foster care system, they must weigh where they will be able to live, how they will get to class, how they will afford tuition and all that comes with it largely on their own. If they delay college, returning to school as an adult learner, the pressures of Decision Day and the years that follow become even more complicated.
At the R.J. Leonard Foundation, we work to connect young adults aging out of the foster care system with mentors, as well as a network of support. We aim to give them the resources they need to help make huge choices a little less overwhelming and a lot more exciting, so that education and career are not just a dream but an attainable reality.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. It is an opportunity for us, as community members, to reflect on our responsibility to protect the children around us and to remind ourselves that even those who are not mandated reporters can and should report when necessary.
Permissive reporters - those not required by law to report child abuse - are even more important this year when so many children have stopped being seen in person by those who would typically identify and report child abuse. In 2018, for example, nearly 21% of child abuse and neglect referrals were made by educators. In 2020, nearly 93% of families with school-aged children engaged in some form of distance learning, meaning the face-to-face time that might allow an educator to recognize signs of abuse or neglect was either severely limited or non-existent.
We cannot expect professionals to be the only safety net for our children. It is everyone’s responsibility. If you suspect abuse or neglect, report it.
COVID-19 has led to high numbers of unemployment and underemployment, and as a result, many have faced financial hardship, struggling to keep up with bills including rent and utilities. Help has been offered in many forms from expanded and extended unemployment to rental assistance and a federal eviction moratorium.
But what happens when that help isn’t enough and/or doesn’t come soon enough?
Take for example Texas. According to NPR, the Texas state court system may stop enforcing the federal moratorium on evictions. If that happens, those behind on rent could face losing their homes. Though rental assistance is a part of the American Rescue Plan and was a part of past stimulus bills, those who have applied for it recently likely have not received funding. They may not even be sure the status of their application. That’s not enough to stop an eviction.
Back home in Pennsylvania, those in need have struggled with accessing their benefits and, even more often, accessing a person to help them determine where those benefits have gone. Unemployment funds have taken weeks to months to arrive, for instance - a delay that is more than costly when you’re relying on a payment for all manner of needs.
So yes, help has been given, but that help has faced its own obstacles. As we look to rebuild the economy and return to a semblance of normalcy, we must remember that those who have faced the greatest difficulties will still need assistance in the coming months.
6 of RJLF’s Fellows have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past year. That accounts for nearly half of the young adults we are currently serving. While all have recovered fully or appear to be recovering fully, their illnesses are a stark reminder of the risks many have been forced to take through the pandemic, particularly those in low-income and underserved communities.
For example, while millions have had the opportunity to work from home through 2020 and 2021, others - including a number of our Fellows - have gone in-person to work at grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, patient homes and group homes. Despite precautions, many have been exposed to COVID-19 at their jobs. However, an equal number have been exposed at home through partners, roommates and/or their children’s caretakers. Why? Because when you’re:
For many of us, the risks we’ve taken through the pandemic have been largely optional - should we see a loved one, go to a playground or pop into the store instead of ordering curbside pick up? But for so many more, the risks have been mandatory and constant, and the results of that have too often been an illness with an unpredictable outcome.