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Making the Difference Between Struggle and Success

Carmen Jordan, mentor for Fairfax Families4Kids: “My hope is that, as a community, we do more to seek out Fairfax County families that are willing to provide loving adoptive and long-term foster homes for foster youth.”

Carmen Jordan, mentor for Fairfax Families4Kids: “My hope is that, as a community, we do more to seek out Fairfax County families that are willing to provide loving adoptive and long-term foster homes for foster youth.” Photo courtesy of Joan Brady

All youth need stability and loving parents to give them the best chance for success in life. This is why finding adoptive homes and permanent traditional foster homes for our youth is so critical. Over the last six years, as a Fairfax Families4Kids mentor, I have seen foster youth struggle, especially when circumstance has caused them to be moved frequently from foster care placement to foster care placement (including traditional foster homes and foster group homes).

There is one 14-year-old youth in particular that I recall that was originally removed from his biological home, then lived with another biological family member for a time, then was moved into a traditional foster home, then to a group foster facility—all of this taking place over a few short years. This youth has been participating at group FF4Kids mentoring events for several years. I remember the poor behavior demonstrated at times by this youth at the group events, including not following the rules, speaking out of turn in an effort to gain attention, occasional physical outbursts due to not being able to control his anger, actually teasing other foster youth in an effort to get them to chase him around the room.

This behavior was his way of crying out for the love and attention he was not receiving at “home.” He wanted so desperately to be seen and heard by anyone in his life. This foster youth was just recently placed in a loving, adoptive home. The youth’s behavior at the group mentoring events has made a complete turnaround. He no longer needs to be the center of attention, always has a smile on his face, and demonstrates positive interaction with both mentors/volunteers and the other foster youth. This is due to him finally feeling safe and knowing that there are loving adults that he can trust to protect and take care of him. There is no amount of support from the county, school system, programs, and organizations that can replicate the day in and day out support that a child receives from a loving family.

About the Author

Carmen Jordan of Reston has been a mentor for Fairfax Families4 Kids for six years. She is considered one of the most experienced mentors in the program. In addition to working full-time as a marquee account manager at Deltek in Herndon, Jordan makes herself available to “trouble-shoot” for the children and families she mentors. In the following column, she details her experiences with the program, and at-risk foster youth.

MY HOPE is that as a community, we do more to seek out Fairfax County families that are willing to provide loving adoptive and long-term foster homes for foster youth. There is a reason that the name of our program is “Fairfax Families4Kids.” It is our mission to find Fairfax County families for these foster kids. Mentoring through the program helps prepare these youth for placement. The county’s ability to more effectively find long-term, loving homes for foster youth is the key to a foster youth’s ability to grow to become mature, responsible, independent adults.

I have mentored many foster youth both through their years in foster care and their transition out of foster care. Though many foster youth have positive transitions out of foster care into independent, adult lives, there are many foster youth whose outcomes are less successful.

I can tell you stories about Fairfax County foster youth that transition out and become homeless within weeks or months. They share with me the “life skills” they have learned to survive.

“The metro trains/buses run all night except 3 to 6 a.m., so if you have metro money, you can ride all day and night to stay warm. Then you just need to walk the streets during those hours.

  • Another youth said he sleeps on the floor of a friend’s motel room or catches a few hours of sleep at the 24-hour McDonald’s until the police ask him to leave.

  • They can tell you about their stays at the various community homeless shelters. “The crack heads and heroin addicts will steal from you so you need to keep your stuff with you at all times.”

  • They will tell you where they can find public computers where they can apply online for jobs. They can make enough money to feed themselves but not enough to find permanent housing. They live with health ailments because they no longer have health insurance.

AT TIMES it is painful to witness, but as mentors, our mentoring does not cease just because they transition out of foster care. Through FF4Kids mentoring, a trusting relationship is formed, allowing foster youth to be receptive to the advice and counseling that we have to offer. This is key: if there is no trust, it is difficult for foster youth to accept advice and counseling.

For many of these foster youth, the relationships they have with their mentor is the longest term relationship they have with a responsible adult. I can’t tell you how many times a social worker, case worker, life skills coach or foster parent has said “Carmen, you have known him longer. Talk to him and explain how important it is for him to stay in school, obtain his high school diploma.”

It has been an honor and privilege to mentor many of the foster youth within our Fairfax County community. They have taught me more about perseverance through adversity than I could ever teach them. Mentoring can be difficult at times, they will make missteps along the way but they will also surprise you with their ability to accomplish goals they have set for themselves in an effort to become mature, independent young adults. Mentoring is about being there for them through the ups and downs!