It is estimated that 4 to 10% of individuals in the United States identify as LGBTQ+. However, nearly 20% of youth in foster care do, indicating that the LGBTQ+ population is significantly overrepresented within child welfare. For many of these youth, their birth families are unable or unwilling to provide safe homes for them. Some are kicked out of the house while others face abuse in all forms from their family members. In fact, it has been found that “an estimated 43% of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness are forced from their homes because of conflicts with their families about their sexual orientation or gender identity; 32% of homeless LGBTQ youth have experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at home over their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Unfortunately, the traumas these youth face at home typically do not end when they enter foster care. Youth who are LGBTQ+ report facing verbal and physical abuse because of their gender or sexual identity. Additionally, according to the Human Rights Campaign, 78% of LGBTQ+ youth have been removed or left their foster care placement because of hostility toward their identity.
This Pride Month (and every month after), we must put more intentional effort into being and doing better for youth who are LGBTQ+. Whether with their birth family or in a foster home, safety and stability should be considered the foundation of wellbeing, not an unattainable goal.
Humans have evolved to crave human contact through social interaction, but the COVID-19 world makes it hard to satisfy this need. Unable to see each other face to face, we turn to online platforms instead, like Zoom. And while Zoom may be satisfying our need to keep in touch, it's hardly satisfying our need for human touch.
Worse, our brains are actually having to work harder on Zoom, as natural body language clues for interpretation are missing. It is causing us to be impatient, cranky, and brain-tired. Add in the lack of deep connection offered by Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and we are all just craving human interaction, touch, and authentic connections.
Life in quarantine deprives us of the human connection we crave, but certain communities constantly struggle with an absent support system, before, after and during COVID-19. Youth aging out of foster care, for example, often live in a state of loneliness with limited connection to community, friends and family. When their lives are upended by neglect or abuse as children, they are taken into foster care and their primary contacts become social workers, lawyers and case workers. Their friends come into their lives and leave their lives more frequently than we can ever imagine.
Our mental health is suffering as a result of this pandemic, but the mental health of a young adult in foster care will suffer long after we are back to work and back to life in the post COVID-19 world. click here to learn more about Mentorship and ways you can stay connected with all members of your community.
The pandemic has skyrocketed unemployment rates, with more than 42 million Americans newly out of work or underemployed as a result. While all industries have been affected and employees at even the highest levels face layoffs or reduced pay/hours, certain sectors and groups of individuals have been affected disproportionately. This is particularly true for young adults (ages 18-24) without postsecondary degrees.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, more than 6.5 million young adults in low-wage jobs did not have and were not pursuing a post-secondary degree prior to the pandemic. Nearly half of them were working in industries heavily impacted by the statewide lockdowns. Think restaurants, hotels, retailers.
This means that millions of young adults are currently out of work, likely without savings. It’s hard to put anything away when you’re making the average of $10.22 per hour, or worse Pennsylvania’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. And there is no guarantee that those jobs will come back. Many restaurants and retailers, including the big chains, won’t reopen. Those that do may be forced to restructure how they deliver services. That could mean fewer employees.
Now more than ever it is apparent that we must - as a society - examine the opportunities available to young people. We must address not only the inadequacy of pay in many employment sectors but also the accessibility of postsecondary degrees. While young adults with postsecondary degrees also face unemployment right now, their chances of recovery are greater.
The coronavirus has given us the opportunity to examine the structure of our society and the inequities and disparities within it. Now, we must take the next steps to find and create the solutions to help repair it.
Though it may feel like it, the coronavirus has not stopped everything, including time. The clock still ticks toward new days and, more importantly, new birthdays. While some may welcome a celebratory distraction, many transition-age youth in foster care and related programs view their birthdays with a heightened sense of anxiety. They face aging out of their safety nets at a time when little is available to them, from jobs to education.
Such is the case for one of RJLF’s newest Fellows. Ana is currently in an aftercare program through Tabor Children Services that subsidizes her rent. When she turns 21 in June, Ana will no longer receive financial assistance and will be on her own for all of her bills. Though she has been working diligently to prepare for this transition, the COVID-19 lockdowns set her back.
We asked Ana to share with us what it’s been like as a transition-age youth through the coronavirus pandemic. See below.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but how exactly does that work when the village is at least 6 feet away or, even more likely, online only?
The lockdowns put in place over the last few months have closed schools, daycares, playgrounds and just about anywhere else a child might go outside of their home. While this could lead to more, often coveted together time for families, it also means parents are taking on new challenges. Many continue to work full and part-time jobs from home while also helping to facilitate online learning for school-age kids and/or wrangling young children throughout the day.
Then, you add in emotional well-being. Cut off from grandparents, teachers and friends, kids are trying to comprehend what’s going on and how to get by without a significant portion of their support system. Depending on their age, they might understand too little or too much. And yes, there are resources aplenty to help talk to kids about COVID-19, but it is still difficult for parents to do so, particularly as they attempt to take care of themselves. Remember, no matter the age, we are all struggling.
To top it all off, there’s coronavirus. But, enough about that.
All this to say, pandemic-era parenting is a new kind of balancing act with unprecedented responsibilities and waves of emotion from guilt to exhaustion to contentment to gratitude.
If you are a parent - as many of us at the R. J. Leonard Foundation are - you’re not alone.
This is hard.
May is mental health awareness month. And this year, this month seems particularly poignant.
We are currently all coping with the impacts of COVID-19, not just socially, professionally and - for some - physically, but emotionally as well. Our mental health is being challenged by the pandemic. That’s not to say that we will all experience or respond to this time in the same way. As many have pointed out, we are in the same storm but different boats. However, we will all be impacted, and we need to be aware of that for our own and others’ wellbeing.
It won’t be until long after COVID-19 has passed that we truly understand the effects this pandemic has had on mental health. But what we know today is that many will struggle with anxiety, depression, grief and other trauma-related issues. Many are struggling with them right now.
Thus, it is even more important that you take the time to check in not only with your loved ones but with yourself through this experience. Know the signs of depression and anxiety. Identify how you typically cope with stress and create opportunities for self care and self awareness. If you find yourself having a difficult time, reach out to your support system. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There are resources available and people who want to help. It is vital that you know that even as we remain physically distant, we are not isolated.
National and Local Resources:
National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline - 1-800-950-6264
SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline - 1-800-985-5990
National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-7233
Pennsylvania Crisis Textline - Text PA to 741-741
Bucks County Behavioral Health Helpline - 215-399-5681
Over the past two Sundays - April 19 and April 26 - RJLF came together for an online workshop series on self-care. It was the first time we had been together, albeit virtually, as a group since the holiday party in December, and it was a joy to see and hear from everyone.
Our presenter was Allison Moore of Box 52 Coaching and Consulting. A leadership/career coach with an impressive background working with young adults in foster care, Allison spoke with us about stress, self-care, strengths and habits. During the first session, we learned what stress does to the body and talked about what self-care looks like and how it might be a little different now, with stay-at-home orders in place.
In week two, Allison challenged the group to identify areas in which they wanted to improve. Overwhelmingly, RJLF voted for health and wellness - a topic of particular interest as so many of us stay at home fighting the urge to eat salty snacks or bake sweet treats, like banana bread. Almost instantly, a Fellow offered up an idea to help us all stay on track and support each other in health (that idea is in the works; stay tuned!).
The workshops were a wonderful opportunity not only for all of us to come together but also to be reminded of how important it is to be aware of ourselves, our response to stressful situations, such as COVID-19, and the habits we form/break/maintain throughout.
We are so grateful to our Fellows, Mentors, Board Members and Allison for spending their Sunday mornings with us.
We look forward to more online - and hopefully in-person - workshops this year!
On March 27, the federal government passed a stimulus package, allotting $1200 to every individual making less than $75,000 annually and couples making less than $150,000 annually. Parents/guardians will receive an additional $500 for every child 16 or younger. Direct deposit payments went out on April 15, with paper checks expected to follow in the weeks after.
The payments are meant to encourage activity within the economy, whether that means paying bills or making an impromptu purchase (online). But for people struggling to make ends meet, whether they’re out of work, facing reduced hours or just not getting paid enough, $1200 won’t go very far. In fact according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $1200 will cover less than two weeks’ expenses for most Americans (Check out the graphics below to find out just how much it costs to live in Bucks and Montgomery Counties monthly).
And those two weeks don’t take into account the added costs that have come with stay at home orders. Even as hours, wages and job stability have gone down, living expenses are going up. Here’s how:
This doesn’t mean that the stimulus payments don’t help at all. They do. However, they aren’t a cure-all. We encourage you to look for additional ways to help your neighbors and community at this time, while remaining physically distant. And if you need help, ask. We’re here for you, too.
Many of us, if we’re lucky, have spent the past few (and the next few) weeks working from home. Many more are struggling to make ends meet as they face layoffs in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Still others are going into work - into offices, medical facilities, grocery stores and other businesses deemed essential. These essential employees are helping to keep the rest of us afloat.
One such employee is RJLF’s very own Fellow “Joseph”. Joseph is a youth counselor at a residential facility, where he works 40 hours per week. He says that while his one-on-one work with the kids continues much as it did prior to COVID-19, there have been some noticeable changes at the facility. “All of the employees have to wear masks or they’re sent home. Your temperature is taken before you come into the building. If it’s over 100, you get sent home.” He adds that everything has to be sanitized, a lot.
For the youth at the facility, life has gone virtual. Their schooling and visits with families are now online. No visitors are permitted within the building. There are no community activities. And even their interactions with each other have lessened. Rather than eating as a large group, the kids now eat lunch 10 at a time. “No one can sit [right] next to each other,” says Joseph.
When asked if he’s nervous going into work still and what it feels like to be deemed an essential employee, Joseph says that his main worry is that if he gets infected, he may unknowingly infect others. But overall, he feels lucky.
“You feel blessed to be working; you appreciate it,” he says. “A lot of people at my job, they’re the only people working right now in their families.
“We aren’t as important as the doctors and nurses, but we are trying to take care of kids.”
RJLF is so proud of Joseph and incredibly privileged to know him. Keep doing the work that you do Joseph, and thank you.