A group that offers long-term free, professional mentoring to kids at risk of getting trapped in the child welfare system is opening new offices in Colorado and Montana.
Friends of the Children pairs select low-income children with paid full-time mentors who serve as a mentor throughout their childhood, beginning as early as age 4. Each mentor has several kids in the community, and they commit to spending four hours a week with each child at their school, at their homes or in the community. Trained in the arts of healing trauma, the “Friends,” as they are called, do their best to build loving bonds based on trust as they provide social, emotional and academic support.
Most of the children are either in foster care or are thought to be at risk of family separation. The mentors do whatever they can to help the kids reunite with their parents or keep child protective services from separating them in the first place. This includes helping parents find the resources and support they need, whether it be substance use treatment, parenting skills or other services and support. The program has doubled the total number of cities it operates in since 2018.
The first of the two new Friends of the Children chapters that is expected to open in the near future will be located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Judy Cara, a British transplant who has been active as a leader in the area’s nonprofit community services sector for years, will head Colorado’s first chapter.
“Every child in Colorado Springs deserves the opportunity to dream big and reach their goals, but too many children face a lot of adversity that can seem impossible to overcome,” said Cara, adding that she is honored to have the opportunity to lead the Colorado Springs office. “Now, more than ever, it’s important to introduce new resources to communities as families continue to persevere during these particularly tough times.”
The El Paso County child welfare system handled 17,000 referrals for child neglect and abuse in 2019 — the second largest number in the state. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters worse.
A new office is also expected to open in Missoula, Montana, in the next few months. That would bring the total number of Friends of the Children offices to 24 across the country, mostly in the West. The first office opened in Portland, Oregon, in 1993.
Missoula resident Ben Davis was named executive director of the western Montana region.