2007-01-17 / Editorials

Op- ed

Foster Care Mentoring Makes A Difference
BY MATILDA RAFFA CUOMO

Imagine a world in which the concept of "family" is turned on its head, a world in which you are forced to pack your few belongings and move to a new home and a new family. You are most likely separated from your brothers and sisters, who are placed in other foster homes. And imagine for a moment that you are the new family taking in a child who is confused, rootless and likely angry. Very little imagination is required if you are one of the estimated 518,000 children in foster care in the United States, one of the foster care families who open their hearts and home to children in desperate need of stability or a caring, volunteer mentor for a child in foster care.

January is National Mentoring Month. This year our focus is on mentoring children in foster care. It is a time to share the success stories of foster care mentoring and to inform policymakers, business leaders and others in our community and across the country of the need to provide children in foster care with a trained, caring, adult mentor. Studies confirm that children and youth with access to mentors have stronger relationships, higher selfesteem, better school attendance and better grades. Foster care mentoring makes a real difference.

The Foster Care program of Mentoring USA is especially designed to provide structured, one-to-one mentoring for atrisk children who are in foster care throughout New York City. We are proud to say this is the first mentoring program in the country to have this sensitive training for mentors to counsel and understand the needs of these vulnerable children. Mentoring USA has a special need for mentors who have themselves been in foster care or have been adopted. It means so much for these children to connect with an adult who truly understands their experience.

In 1995, our unique mentor training for foster care youth was developed in collaboration with Louise Thibadeaux, formerly of the New York City Administration of Children's Services under then Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta. Mentoring USA was the first mentoring program to concentrate on mentoring children in foster care.

According to a 1999 study by the General Accounting Office on teenagers after one year of leaving the foster care system,

+ 1 in 3 teenagers had not completed high school

+ Almost 50 percent of teenagers were unemployed

+ 1 in 3 of the teenagers had been homeless.

"With approximately 15 million young Americans in need or want of a positive role model, mentoring is one of the most important movements in the nation today," Alan D. Schwartz, Mentor/National Mentoring Partnership Board Vice-Chair and president and cochief operating officer, Bear Stearns & Co., Inc., said.

Through an alliance of professionals at Cornell Cooperative Extension providing nutrition education and NYU Stern students providing financial literacy, and a collective of public and private collaborative agencies, Mentoring USA provides a comprehensive program offering a one-toone mentor relationship with these particularly vulnerable children. Sponsored by donations and trained, volunteer mentors, the goal of the Mentoring USA Foster Care program is to provide each of these children with a long-term relationship with someone who cares about them.

Mentoring USA's goal is to change lives and give hope for a better future to our youth in foster care by sharing our hearts, opening our homes, and providing mentors. If you know a family providing foster care, take a moment to thank them. If you know caring people who volunteer as mentors, take a moment to thank them. If you would like to help a child in foster care, become a mentor yourself. If you grew up in foster care, reach out and mentor a child who can benefit from your insight and understanding. Mentoring is a lifetime investment in our children that benefits the community. Become a mentor. For more information, visit www.mentoringusa.org.

Matilda Raffa Cuomo, Mentoring USA founder and chairperson, was first lady of New York state from 1983 to 1994 during the gubernatorial administration of her husband, Mario Cuomo.

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