By the time I turned 23, my life story could have fit into a sentence. I grew up within a nuclear family, went through school and college, got a job and moved out.
Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity and the pleasure to talk to many former foster youth. Their stories could never fit into a single sentence. Their heartbreak wasn’t a boy who left them, but a parent who they never met. Their stories weren’t about an argument with a friend or a bad grade on a math test, but about neglect, homelessness and fear.
Despite these sometimes tragic beginnings, many found ways to weave into their narrative threads of hope and trust. Of the 23,000 youth who age out of the foster care system every year, the few that I spoke to – who half-jokingly refer to themselves as the poster-children for the foster care system – are finding ways to transition into adulthood. Sometimes it is with the help of a mentor, a teacher, or even an organization who reminds them that they have potential and worth.
Jevon was born to a mother who had drugs in her system. He was immediately taken away and put into kinship care with a grandmother who he stayed with for nine years. Jevon then ended up in and out of homelessness – and trouble – until high school.
When I asked how he turned his life around, Jevon talked both about his faith and the mentors in his life. The short video soundbite below illustrates his perspective on the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
If you must feed a child before you can teach him to fish, what is the food that will nourish them? Is it mentorship? An adult who really cares?
We’ve heard the statistics. Many of you reading this have met the kids, the ones who after aging out have become homeless, or ended up in jail or as victims of sex trafficking. How are they different from the poster children that I’ve interviewed? The ones who have not only graduated from high school, but are forging their way through college.
According to the federal Foster Care Mentoring Act of 2011 – which was introduced to congress and never passed – research shows that 45 percent of mentored teens are less likely to use drugs, 59 percent have better academic performance and 73 percent achieve higher goals in general.
The bill incentivized states to encourage incorporating mentoring programs into their foster care services.
Monique, another recently emancipated youth, was born at home because her mother was too drugged up to get to the hospital. Monique also started out in kinship care, but abuse and neglect bounced her around until she ended up in various placement homes. It wasn’t until she met her mentor, who is introduced in the short clip below, that Monique realized she could maybe, possibly, trust an adult.
There is not likely going to be an argument that mentors are not important, but these two youth remind us why they are essential.
Organizations throughout the country are building transitional youth programs. Los Angeles County has Echoes of Hope, The RightWay Foundation and Peace4Kids, among others. As youth take advantage of these opportunities, I hope that both the emancipated youth that I’ve met – as well as the others across the country, become the poster-children for something else: following their passions into adulthood.
To watch Jevon and Monique’s complete story, visit our stories page.
Mira Zimet is an award-winning educational and documentary filmmaker. She has been producing videos for over fifteen years. Recently, she launched The Storyboard Project to give foster youth transitioning into adulthood the opportunity to tell their story using a visual medium.