Monday, Mar 23, 2015
Story and picture shared with permission of the child.
National child welfare policy is focused on three key goals: child safety, permanency, and well-being. As recently reported in the Huffington Post by National CASA CEO, Michael Piraino, “Unfortunately…many aspects of child well-being just are not part of the federally mandated child welfare outcomes reports.” This article goes on to point out that one way of tracking a child’s well-being would be to track involvement in extracurricular and/or other age appropriate activities as well as the number, quality, and consistency of adult relationships for children in care. We couldn’t agree more.
Long standing studies and recent research all confirm that the quality and consistency of adult relationships significantly contribute to a child’s well-being. The Search Institute has recently adopted the term “developmental relationships” to further advance their framework and studies in this area. As defined by the Search Institute, a developmental relationship is “a close connection between a young person and an adult…that powerfully and positively shapes the young person’s identity and helps the young person develop a thriving mindset…. A thriving mindset can be summarized as the orientation not just to get by in life, but to flourish—not just to survive, but to thrive.” Youth need people in their lives who express care, challenge growth, provide support, share power, and expand possibilities. I know many of our Guardian ad Litem volunteer child advocates are already serving in the developmental relationship role but this quick and handy chart is a great reminder of what our kids needs to succeed.
Here at the Guardian ad Litem Foundation of Tampa Bay, we know that providing opportunities for youth to thrive is paramount. Participation in extracurricular and social activities enriches our children’s lives by expanding their horizons and connecting them to new opportunities. While writing this article, I thought of a recent outing with one of my GAL children I would like to share to further illustrate this point. Mariah requested to meet Winter at Clearwater Marine Aquarium for her 18th birthday. While at the aquarium, she saw a new dolphin named Nicholas and asked a volunteer questions to learn more about his story. Nicholas beached himself when he was a baby because his mother had beached herself. The volunteer went on to explain that baby dolphins do whatever their mothers do and he was badly sunburned as a result. After healing from the burn he could not be released back into the wild because he never learned how to fish from his mother. While driving home, Mariah said she had been thinking about Nicholas and how she was like him. When I asked her to share more, she said she never learned certain things from her mother and was scared to be out on her own. She talked about how her mother had her first child at 14 and how she didn’t have the skills to be a good parent. She then ended the conversation with this epiphany, “I don’t want to beach myself like Nicholas. I don’t want to do as my mother did.”
This outing expanded possibilities for Mariah by exposing her to new experiences and places. She learned about new career options and talked about future possibilities for herself. I would never know that a family member died in a boating accident had we not taken the ferry from one exhibit to the other that day and she stretched her comfort zone by participating even though she was scared. I was able to be present and show interest in the young woman she is becoming. Since that day, we have referred back to the lessons from Nicholas as I insist on her trying to continuously improve. Mariah recently became frustrated during a lesson on budgeting and said it wasn’t fair that her Mom wasn’t around to teach her these things. We talked about Nicholas again and how it was too late for him to learn to fish-but that it wasn’t too late for her to learn budgeting. I’ve made it clear that I expect her to live up to her potential and provide support and encouragement as she navigates the independent living process. We share power as we collaborate together to accomplish her goals and solve problems and she shares in the decision making process as we embark on her journey to adulthood.
I’m honored to be given the privilege of participating in her milestones and can’t wait to see where her next step leads. There are hundreds of children just like Mariah who could use a caring committed adult in their life. If you want to learn more about becoming a Guardian ad Litem volunteer child advocate, click here. Want to help in another way? Contact Amy Foster at [email protected]. The Guardian ad Litem Foundation of Tampa Bay has multiple flexible volunteer opportunities we can match based on your interests, availability, and skills.
The children are waiting and they need your help now more than ever.