It might be easy to take for granted what it means to have a family or a place to come home to for the holidays. The people I work with who have been through the foster care system do not tend to have that, so we create it together. We organize events for every holiday — a space for people to come, with their kids if they have them. We host summer events, picnics, outdoor barbecues, and Thanksgiving dinners. Sometimes we’ve had close to 50 people show up.
For the Christmas holidays, one of our young people dresses up as Santa and delivers holiday gifts. We partner with businesses to create an experience where people feel like “I matter, I am not forgotten.” No matter what happened all year, we know we have special events we can look forward to with people we can simply be with as we are — imperfect, not having it all together.
Almost 10 years ago, I started the nonprofit Partnerships for Permanence. I have worked in child welfare for almost 20 years, working predominantly with foster alumni. People age out of the system at 18 or 21 years old and often do not have much support after that.
How Permanence Began
Ten years ago, I needed a break from working for the child welfare system at the county level. My dream was to have a nonprofit. I wanted to elevate voices of young people. I’d stayed in contact with youth I’d served in the past who had aged out of the system; I asked them what they needed. That is how Partnerships for Permanence was created.
Our young people do not have stability around basic needs, like housing and food. The social emotional wellbeing of young people is an area we focus on heavily. Often our people don’t have family connections to help them gain employment.
I went through the system; this is personal for me. I am providing for others what I didn’t always have — and giving back for the mentors I did have. My guardian ad litem [who represents youth through court systems] has been my mentor for more than 30 years. But that is not a common pattern of longevity with government employees.
We do not have an age limit for the people in our programs. Some are starting off their journey in adulthood and others are retiring from their careers. We have trained more than 5,000 families and 2,600 professionals about child welfare. We work with judges, social workers, policy makers — they hear firsthand from people who have experienced the system. We also work with anywhere from 100 to 150 families a month. Our young leaders provide testimonials of what they’ve been through. They give advice and recommendations for families who are interested in fostering or adopting.
We also offer a leadership and mentoring program. We recruit 10 to 30 young leaders each year who have gotten through that hump of feeling more settled in adulthood. We primarily work with high-achieving young people who are dedicated to transforming community. We keep the group small, to focus on each individual and their needs. Our goal is to grow our capacity statewide.
After training, we match young people with a mentor in the community. Some of those mentors have experience with the foster care system, and others are experts in a field that our leaders are interested in. We are seeking volunteers and community members to partner with us.
Some program graduates are now staff and youth consultants. They’ve experienced hard, hard times, and seeing them lead workshops is very emotional for me. Our leadership program also includes a six-week financial literacy class in connection with the Kids at Risk Action group. We meet every month. We have a cohort of working professionals and single mothers. The current cohort started in January with a list of goals, and nearly all of them have accomplished what they wanted: getting a car, paying off debt, getting an apartment in a safer environment. It is remarkable.
It is not about imposing the group facilitators’ vision of what success looks like. Participants decide what success looks like to each of them and become confident together in accomplishing those goals.
Those are the things that the government cannot really provide. That’s the gap that I saw in the system.
Lola Adebara’s (she/her) child welfare work includes youth advocacy, training curriculum development, systems reform, and legislative policy advisement.
Action = Change
Partnerships for Permanence has a list of items that youth and their families in the foster care system need, from socks to grocery gift cards. Find out how to offer support at firstname.lastname@example.org