Capital University Pairs Mentors With Young Adults Aging Out Of Foster Care

May 22, 2017

Paying bills. Making friends. Finding a job, housing, or even just food. Aging out of foster care brings a range of challenges for young adults thrust into a new world.

A new program at Capital University is trying to help.

The Columbus Area Mentoring Program, or CAMP, is a new effort by Capital’s Family and Youth Law Center. It will provide a range of services for eligible young adults between the ages of 18 and 21. But administrators say the most important part of the effort is finding mentors.

“The Family and Youth Law Center has been working with foster care youth for almost two decades now, and we understand the issues that they face on a daily basis," says Judith Goldstein, CAMP’s executive director. "And we also have a civil legal clinic which provides assistance to them."

Goldstein says they're reaching out to alumni associations and other philanthropic organizations to recruit mentors to pair with those leaving foster care.

They're still in the pilot phase, so the program is initially limited to helping 10 young adults.

The program looks to work in conjunction with new state rules that, beginning in 2018, let young adults opt to stay in the foster care system until the age of 21.

“It's really a complementary relationship that we see,” says CAMP project manager Denise St. Clair. “They will continue if they elect into the program to receive case planning services, but they won't have the type of relational connection necessarily that our program will provide.

St. Clair and Goldstein talked to WOSU's Debbie Holmes about the program and the difficulty that foster children have in transitioning out of the system.

Debbie Holmes: Judith, you were the one who created the program. Explain why you created it and how you think this will help young adults who are getting out of foster care.

Judith Goldstein: The Family and Youth Law Center has been working with foster care youth for almost two decades now, and we understand the issues that they face on a daily basis. And we also have a civil legal clinic which provides assistance to them.

And we came to realize that all the supports and things that they have other in foster care go away after they age out at age 18. And so we wanted to provide them with the supports that they need so that they can become productive adults.

Debbie Holmes: Let's explain some of what they're losing.

Judith Goldstein: The things they are losing is very easy access to housing, to food, to mentors, to people, to caseworkers - people who can give them direction. 

As soon as you age out of foster care you may no longer have a parent, who may no longer have someone to guide you just with the basics for daily life. You know if you have an issue with your landlord or if you have an issue at work you need someone who you can turn to to give you advice.

Debbie Holmes: And so you're going to match the young adult with a mentor. Where are they coming from?

Denise St. Clair: The mentors are coming from a number of different sources.

We are looking to organizations including alumni associations of our school and others in the area. We're looking at the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program. We're looking at young professional groups. We've also worked with Franklin County Children's Services with their mentoring program for kids who are still in care and they've given us really valuable resources and connections for mentorships as well.

Debbie Holmes: So how many young adults are you aiming to help right away?

Denise St. Clair: We are currently a pilot program so we're somewhat limited in our first year, but we will be serving 10 young adults, 10 mentor pairs in the Columbus area.

Debbie Holmes: Now new rules in Ohio starting in January 2018 will let young adults have the option to continue under foster care until age 21. Will that change things? Will that make it they will make it, I guess, a little bit better, but still at age 21 they're on their own again?

Judith Goldstein: We believe that our program is symbiotic with this extension of foster care. The things that they don't get in this extension are things like mentors that they can go to every day to help them with these everyday issues. There may still be housing issues that they need to deal with. Denise, can you think of other things?

Denise St. Clair: I agree it's really a complementary relationship that we see. They will continue if they elect into the program to receive case planning services, but they won't have the type of relational connection necessarily that our program will provide.

And what we're really looking at are mentors who will make a commitment to work with the youth to help identify goals just to be a friend and a support. And that's what so many youth who are leaving care now lack.

Debbie Holmes: Are there other types of programs like this in Franklin County, Judith?

Judith Goldstein: There are no other programs like this in Franklin County.

Debbie Holmes: Did you look at any more other models for this program when you created this one?

Judith Goldstein: Absolutely. We did research from all over the country from Cleveland to Maine to California. There are a few programs scattered around the country and we were able to learn a lot from the mistakes that they had made the problems they had.