BY NITA SMITH, Executive Director, Friends of the Children
Josh, a salaried, professional mentor through the Friends of the Children program, has been William’s friend since he was in kindergarten. When he first met William, his biological mother had substance abuse issues and had not been present since his birth. His father’s whereabouts were unknown.
William lived with his aunt and uncle for a short time, where he struggled continuously with behavioral issues.
After about a year, William was removed from his aunt’s care and placed back into foster care where he would then experience multiple placements and school changes, which had a profound, noticeable effect on his behavior and school performance.
Throughout all of the transition and trauma in William’s life, his friend Josh remained a consistent presence, always locating him and ensuring that he maintained regular weekly outings and school visits.
William is now in the third grade, and Josh remains a consistent presence in his life. He has been adopted and now attends a new school – his fourth school since starting kindergarten.
Early on, Josh and the adoptive mother formulated a plan to ensure stability and consistency in William’s life as well as continued academic and behavioral progress. William is now actively involved in sports, and his behavior in and out of school continues to show significant improvement.
Josh’s consistency, quality and caring investment in William has resulted in a network of diverse support for his social-emotional development and educational success.
We are facing many challenges with our foster care system in Tampa Bay. Children—particularly older youth—in foster care are slipping through the cracks and not getting the support they need to move beyond their foster care experience. We are now part of the solution.
Friends of the Children—a national network with 14 other locations across the country—has been so successful in Tampa Bay that we are investing in the launch of a new chapter that can now serve more children in foster care in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
Friends of the Children—Tampa Bay selects the most vulnerable children ages four to six from high-poverty schools and the foster care system. Youth are then paired with a long-term, salaried, professional mentor (a friend) who stays with them from kindergarten through graduation – 12 and a half years, no matter what.
Research has shown that the most important factor for building resiliency in children who face the highest risks is a long-term, consistent relationship with a caring adult. Evaluations on youth who complete the Friends of the Children program, compared to youth in foster care without a Friend show that:
Eighty-five percent graduate high school, whereas only 55 percent of youth in foster care graduate high school or obtain a GED diploma.
Ninety-three percent avoid the juvenile justice system, but only 63 percent of youth in foster care avoid incarceration.
Ninety-eight percent avoid early parenting, whereas only 86 percent of youth in foster care avoid early parenting.
This model also makes economic sense. A Harvard Business School Association of Oregon return on investment study found that for every $1 invested in Friends of the Children, the community benefits more than $7 in saved social costs. Helping one child saves the community $900,000.
Separation from a parent is considered an adverse childhood experience which causes childhood trauma. The toxic stress they experience can lead to short-term and long-term mental and physical health problems, academic delays and social-emotional development delays that are hard to counteract.
As a result, children struggle to gain the social-emotional skills needed to thrive and build positive relationships, let alone do well in school. We empower our youth through social-emotional learning to ensure they are equipped with skills to persist in achieving their goals. We also help them build healthy relationships that will serve them well in school and into adulthood.
Moving mentorship out of the volunteer realm is a crucial component to getting the quality, consistency and commitment that children are facing the highest risks need, and it has been remarkably effective with youth in foster care. We also intervene at an early age—and stay for the longhaul—so that we’re able to change a child’s life trajectory, which is much harder to do as they get older.
Friends of the Children has already positively impacted the youth we serve in Tampa Bay, as well as their families. From the grandmother who can be a better parent to her grandson because of behavioral improvements, to the mother who was able to keep her seven children together because a Friend helped the family find housing, we open the door to upward social mobility.
Imagine if we could give every child in the Tampa Bay foster care system a consistent, caring adult who walked alongside them for 12 and a half years, no matter what. It would change the face of our foster care system.
In Bob Marley’s iconic anthem of conscience, “Redemption Song,” he asked, “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?”
Florida now joins that ugly tragic club of states that have seen their children sacrificed to the false god of gun obsession. Too many are hiding behind the Second Amendment and refusing to come to some common sense solutions that would at least make it harder for crazy people to kill us.
Now the students are getting tired of watching the grown people do little to protect them and are planning a march on Washington March 24. As students are confronting terror, our president is blaming the FBI and everything but the fact that military weapons bought legally are mowing down people in the church, in movie theaters and in our schools.
Days after the public execution of President John F. Kennedy, a solemn Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. spoke words that ring true still today:
Our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate. It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence.
It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder. It is the same climate that murdered Medgar Evers in Mississippi and six innocent Negro children in Birmingham, Ala.
So in a sense, we are all participants in that horrible act that tarnished the image of our nation. By our silence, by our willingness to compromise principle, by our constant attempt to cure the cancer of racial injustice with the Vaseline of gradualism, by our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes. – Martin L. King Jr. 1963
King also said that we lived in a “10-day country” where the anger and passion will give way to business as usual. President Obama lamented after yet another mass murder that our responses have become “too routine.”
The question is do we care to do anything other than pray and feel sorry about this? I don’t think the people losing loved ones are so nonchalant. Maybe this time the Florida school children will do what no one else has been able to…demand that politicians do something about mental health and weapons of mass murders.
The student’s march on Washington will not be about liberal and conservative; it will not be about red Republican or blue Democrats and it will not be about race. This march is in fact about how easy it is to obtain guns more lethal than what was used in Vietnam. These weapons are not aimed at terrorist or the Viet Cong, but at unarmed men, women and children running for their lives while others hide behind worn out excuses.
The murderers who slaughtered in Las Vegas, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Orlando and now Parkland, obtained these weapons legally. Not pistols or shotguns to protect their homes but military-style weapons to spread horror.
Spare me that crap about if you take guns away only criminals will have them! You think that there are no criminals in Japan or Germany? Is there no mentally unstable in Canada or Australia? Of course, there are!
What is different is that it is much harder to get an assault weapon in those countries! Do not blame diversity either because Britain and France have multicultural societies but not as many mass murders as we have. Even in this country, there are fewer murders in states that have stricter gun control.
No one is asking America to give up her guns and have no means of protection. That is the bold-faced lie the gun people yell out to keep from having a sane conversation about common sense machine gun control.
The NRA will tell you that the problem is that we have enough laws and all that is needed is to enforce the ones we have. Alright well, what is the NRA doing about that? They are pretty good about lining the pockets of mostly Republican politicians who in return go nowhere near any real gun control, even though the majority of the American public says it wants something done!
Yes, even gun owners say they would like stricter background checks and fewer assault weapons on the streets but Republicans conveniently ignore those wishes in favor of money from the NRA.
Where was the NRA when Philando Castile was killed after telling the policeman he had a legally registered gun and what Republican stood up for the Marissa Alexander who went to jail for firing a warning shot under the Stand Your Ground law? Both just happened to be black and frankly, race is a fuel that drives many of the gun nuts.
The Second Amendment was made when there were no police and no machine guns. It also talks about a well-regulated Militia, which to me suggest that people be well trained to use their guns. No one wants to stop people from protecting their family but you don’t need weapons made for warfare.
Donald Trump attempted to deflect attention from his “Putin love” by suggesting that the FBI could have done more to prevent the Florida murders as if there were not enough agents to investigate Russian attacks on our democracy and domestic threats. He talks about mental health instead of his NRA masters as being the problem while he tries to take money away from health care.
What good is a wall when children cannot feel safe in school or grandma cannot go to church? He is not the first president to endure mass murders but when was the last time you heard President Obama or even President Bush being accused by teenagers for using their classmate’s death for his own personal benefit?
Dr. King was once asked why he risked his life and spent so much time away from his own families. He looked around and said, “For the children.”
Now there is another march planned in Washington by children not for civil rights but for their lives. I hope that the spirit of Dr. King will be there with them.