Having looked at the disproportionate representation of Black youth in foster care and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minority groups, we thought it time to revisit the impact the pandemic has had on youth in foster care.
According to a study completed by the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research, nearly half of the youth surveyed - youth who are in or recently aged out of foster care - reported COVID-19 having a negative impact on their housing. The youth were asked to leave or feared being asked to leave their current living situation, and/or were experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. More than half reported being food insecure and “Two-thirds of the participants reported that COVID-19 was having a major negative impact on their educational progress or attainment.” The study also found significant impact on mental health and permanency.
What does this mean specifically for Black youth in or aging out of foster care through the pandemic? The research - in Pennsylvania and nationally - hasn’t borne that data yet. However, we can surmise that COVID-19 has been particularly challenging for Black youth and could have long-term impacts on their futures.
We and others have said many times that while we are all in the same storm, we are in different boats. Some will feel the waves of the pandemic more than others, and if we can, it is up to us to help anchor them.
COVID-19 has impacted everyone. The United States has seen, thus far, more than 27.8 million cases and more than 488,000 deaths. Data shows, however, that some groups of people have been impacted more - are at a greater risk - than others. This is true specifically for people of color in the United States. Black Americans, for example, are 1.1 times more likely than non-Hispanic white persons to contract COVID-19, 2.9 times more likely to require hospitalization and 1.9 times more likely to die from COVID-19.
There are several underlying factors for the increased risk including, according to the CDC, healthcare access and utilization, occupation, housing, and education, income and wealth gaps. However, it is telling that at the top of the CDC’s list is discrimination - a factor that greatly impacts every system in America that is supposed to help protect its citizens. The systemic failures have led, for instance, to diminished access to healthcare services. They have led to the other factors on the list.
On an individual level, “Discrimination, which includes racism, can lead to chronic and toxic stress.” Toxic stress is well-known to affect a person’s health long-term, particularly when that stress is felt through childhood and into adulthood, as it is for people of color in the United States.
The disparities in how COVID-19 has affected racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S. does not have to do with the virus itself but rather with the structure and reality of a country that has work to do.
Black youth (ages 0 to 17) are disproportionately overrepresented in the foster care system. Making up just 14% of the child population in 2018, they accounted for 23% of all youth in foster care that year. According to the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Black children also “are 2.5 times more likely to be placed in foster care. Once in foster care, Black foster youth stay longer and are far less likely to be adopted.” And in Pennsylvania, as of 2016, 43% of Black youth in the state were in foster care.
The overarching reason behind this disparity is well known to be racial discrimination.
The good news is that the numbers have actually been improving, having declined from 30% in 2009 to 23% in 2016 (the rate has been stagnant at 23% since). But some good news is not enough. In fact, it’s far from it.
As Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said when the county’s Department of Children and Family Services created an Office of Equity, “We want to create the kinds of programs and systems that allow us to make the best, most culturally competent decisions we can for our 30,000 children in foster care.”
In short, we have work to do.
Over the past month, we’ve talked about who mentors are and the impact they can have on their mentees. One thing we haven’t discussed, however, is why - why become a mentor? And so, we’ve decided to close out National Mentoring Month (a day late) with a look at what motivates our mentors and board members to be a part of the R.J. Leonard Foundation and, more importantly, our Fellows’ lives.
For many, their upbringing and present family life have encouraged them. “Coming from a nurturing family and now being a parent of three young adult children, I understand and appreciate the importance of having support at this pivotal time in life,” says Kathleen - both a board member and mentor, and the Foundation’s last Program Director. “Without guidance to navigate through education and career decisions, and having a safety net to fall back on in times of crisis, the road to independence and self- sufficiency can be daunting.”
Board member Kerry agrees, “I have always been someone who believes in mentoring and teaching. As someone raised by a teacher, I saw firsthand the value of people passing down information learned to one another.”
Outside of family, many at the R.J. Leonard Foundation have been affected by a mentor of their own. “I’ve been fortunate to have a number of mentors that have authentically impacted my life. The perspectives offered, guidance, reflection and shared experiences have influenced my life’s decisions. I am immeasurably in a better place today and better positioned for tomorrow because of these individuals,” describes Miles, RJLF’s Board Chair. The desire to pass on such a positive and far-reaching influence is often a motivator for our volunteers. Just as it will be for our Fellows in the years to come.
There are many other reasons why mentors become mentors, each one unique to the individual. We encourage you to find out more about what motivates our RJLF family and what might motivate you by contacting us at email@example.com or 833-475-5363.
I had a potential mentor tell me the other day that she wasn’t sure what she could offer to a Fellow. She’s been a stay-at-home mom for the past ten years and was concerned that her step back from the [paying] workforce should be a knock against her. She said, gesturing at her Zoom image, “I wear sweatshirts all day!”. I guess she was confused because at the time, I was wearing a sweater . . . with a defined collar. But let’s be clear about how Zoom meetings work:
And sure, she wasn’t really talking about what she wears all day. She was talking about the presumed superiority of those with paychecks and the assumption that you can only help guide a young adult if you’re one of them. However the truth is, that’s simply not true.
Our mentors are a wide variety of people from retirees, to active professionals to - yes - stay-at home-moms (we would love some stay-at-home dads, too!). Their resumes do not make them a mentor, and neither does yours. Who you are makes you a mentor. How do you listen and respond? How much are you willing to not just teach but learn? How much do you and will you continue to care?
This potential mentor will be an amazing mentor once matched, because her heart is in it. She is passionate about helping young people exiting foster care, she is eager to know as much as she can about the system and the people within it, as well as the individual she connects with. We cannot wait to match her.
If you’re uncertain what you could bring to a mentor-fellow relationship, contact us. We would love to help you find out.
Yesterday was International Mentoring Day. Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Both days are about service and the impact it not only has on individuals but on communities as a whole. Today, we encourage you to serve others in any way that you can - as a mentor, at a food pantry, with/for your neighbors, via an online contribution - the opportunities are endless.
Today is I Am a Mentor Day. It is a day within National Mentoring Month where volunteers are encouraged to reflect on the work they have done and the impact they have had on their mentees. At the R. J. Leonard Foundation we have amazing mentors. Each of them has signed up to support and guide their Fellow through the challenges of furthering education and career plans, as well as the obstacles in day to day life.
However, our formal mentors are often not and should not be the only mentors in our Fellows’ lives. Informal mentoring happens every day in a variety of ways. It may be a board member at RJLF, for example, taking the time to discuss their career path and industry, but it is more likely to be a community member - a teacher, social worker, neighbor - who has an often unseen yet invaluable effect on a young person. Informal mentoring happens simply when an adult becomes a trusted adult by being present, listening and helping to guide.
If you take a moment to reflect, you may find that within your own life you have had a number of informal mentors through the years. You may also discover that you, too, have acted as someone’s mentor. If that is the case, today on I Am a Mentor Day, be proud of the positive role you have played - formally or informally - and take strides to continue being the mentor you already are.
We, here at the R. J. Leonard Foundation, are more than ready to say goodbye to 2020 but not without remembering the lessons learned throughout the year first. Looking back, we see that:
Here’s to 2021.
2020 has shown us time and time again just how generous our RJLF family of supporters is, and the holiday season has been no different. Since the launch of our Fellows’ wish lists in late November, our doorstep has been flooded with gifts – gifts that will be wrapped and delivered this week.
This means that our Fellows and their children will have magical holidays thanks to you!
We could not be more grateful.
On Sunday, December 6, our Fellows were treated to mini photoshoots with their loved ones at Masons Mill Park in Willow Grove.
Meghan Hughes of Meghan Renee Photography gifted all who were interested with the opportunity. She, along with our Fellows and their children, bundled (and masked) up for a cold and windy morning. Everyone was all smiles in front of and behind the camera, as Meghan captured the images. Those who participated will receive a printed 8 x 10, as well as digital files.
We know that our Fellows will love the pictures when they arrive and for years to come as they look back at this snapshot of their family in 2020.
Thank you Meghan!!!!