In times of crisis we often find ourselves connecting with and relying on loved ones for moral support and a safe place to stay. As many of us are exploring working remotely, perhaps for the first time, some have elected to ride out this storm with their families whether they are a town away, a state away or even on the other side of the country. We've began connecting with family, friends and coworkers virtually as we all try to find a new sense of normal. Despite all of this I can't help wondering what normal looks like for our youth right now.
The sad truth is that social distancing has left kids in foster care almost completely socially isolated. The luxuries we've come to count on are sources of security our youth have been left without. By it's very nature, foster care can strip someone of their sense of hope, identity and security just by removing them from their home and families. The situation we are facing and the grim realities our youth are facing could not be more polar opposites.
We can quarantine with our families but our youth haven't been able to visit their loved ones. Too often our youth are only able to visit their loved ones once a month but due to risk of infection many family visits have been postponed indefinitely.
Many of us have a place to live but far too many youth in foster care don't have a place to call home. There's a shortage of foster placements leaving our most vulnerable youth without somewhere to feel safe and secure.
We've adapted to Facetime meetings and zoom but the connections our youth have built with others have been suffering. With lower rates of access to technology it has been more difficult for our youth to attend school, connect with friends and find other activities that could instill a sense of normality.
On top of all of this, now even their identity is under attack. 89% of the youth in DC foster care are African American and the global protests for Black Lives Matter and against police brutality have left many wondering what it means to be a person of color in this country.
Even though we have not been able to see our kids, they have been at the forefront of our thoughts and actions. BEST Kids has been working from the start of the pandemic to make sure that our youth feel protected, connected and represented. We have delivered care packages, distributed web accessible devices, developed remote mentoring protocols, and have brought together DC's best experts to speak with our kids about what these protests mean and what they can do about it themselves.
While mentoring is just one method of trying to address a much bigger issue, this global pandemic has laid bare the systemic issues that have allowed so many youth in foster to slip through the cracks. And like any good mentor, we may not have the capacity to fix everything but we can do our best to make sure our youth feel empowered during a time where so many things feel outside of our control.
By: Dorian Thomas
All youth need mentors, but foster youth, especially, need mentors. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis and all of the negative impacts it has had on youth in care, BEST Kids, Inc. is finding a way to empower us through life-changing mentoring. I can attest to this myself, being one of the older youth in care that BEST Kids has positively impacted. My name is Dorian Thomas, and I’m 24 years old. I joined BEST Kids in 2015 and am now one of the 150 youth they serve in the DC area. I was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina and was bought to Southeast, DC at just nine months old. I’ve lived here ever since.
My mentor and I meet one-on-one a few times a month. He is a constant part of my support system and I know I can count on him. As a youth in foster care, I’ve had challenges with having consistent, committed adults in my life. I’ve never seen or heard from my biological father a day in my life and my mother has been in and out of my life since I was born. Thankfully, I’ve been unbelievably blessed to have wonderful men, women, and peers that invest tireless amounts of time, love, and effort into my development. My Aunt and Grandmother are the two women who stepped in to raise me in my mother’s absence. All of the adults in my life have contributed to my growth as a man, and now as a father myself.
As a child I dealt with a lot of negativity including bullying, developing an eating disorder, struggling with my sexuality, being in an abusive relationship, dealing with negative police interaction, and being in foster care. Having fun with someone after you have had a hard week, or being able to get out of your neighborhood to gain exposure to something different whether it’s culture, activities, or something else is the kind of stuff that all youth like me need. This is what mentorship does for youth in foster care, and has personally done for me. Mentors serve as a stabilizing force that keep youth in care going until things are better. This type of servanthood and support has transferred over to the way I parent my daughter.
In the absence of my father, I also attribute my style of fatherhood to male figures I watched on TV shows including Terry Crews on Everybody Hates Chris, Naruto’s Jiraiya, and Oscar Proud from The Proud Family. Their mixture of consistency, sternness, care, understanding, resourcefulness, and fun molded my own brand of fatherhood. My daughter is two years old and being her father has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life. When I first held my daughter, I felt an instant love for her. I couldn’t imagine abandoning her. Being a parent is difficult, but I live for seeing my daughter hit her milestones. I feel the greatest joy when she succeeds. And when she is in pain, I feel that pain too. Fatherhood has its ups and downs, but I could not imagine life without her.
I'm thankful for all of the mentors God placed in my life to support me. Their contributions to my life inspire me to pay it forward. I am hopeful that one day more funding across America will be put towards mentorship for youth in foster care so that all youth can have a mentor. There are more than enough adults in this country for this to happen. If more people are able to see the fulfillment of giving back and uplifting a youth in need, great change will come.
While we wait for that change, there are many ways that you can help youth like me today. Here are a few small things that can make a big impact in the lives of youth in foster care:
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