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A New Model to Support Foster Youth: Stoneleigh Foundation Partners With Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern PA

By Christine Fisher |

mentorship

If there is one word that might describe the life of foster youth, it is likely inconsistency, said Ted Qualli, III, vice president of external affairs and marketing at Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern Pennsylvania.

“They go from placement to placement,” he said. “All too often that means school to school, teacher to teacher. As you can imagine, there’s a lot uncertainty in their lives.”

Now, through a Stoneleigh Fellowship, Charles A. Williams, III, MGCOD, Ph.D., is partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern Pennsylvania to create a new model to support foster youth — a model that they hope could be replicated across the country.

“If I could use one word to describe this program, it would be consistency,” Qualli said.

The United States has an estimated 500,000 youth in foster care. In Philadelphia alone approximately 3,000 children are placed in out-of-home care each year, and the high school drop out rate for these youth is a crippling 75 percent.

“There are so many challenges that foster youth face,” Dr. Williams said. “They come into the system, or systems plural, having been abused, neglected and/or face some sort of severe maltreatment, so in a sense that puts them at a disadvantage as it relates to their peers.”

Stoneleigh FoundationThrough his Stoneleigh Fellowship, Dr. Williams, who grew up in and aged out of the foster care system himself, has partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters to create a mentoring and social skills training program for foster youth in Philadelphia.

The pilot program, which the students will name, is based on Dr. Williams’ “preventorship” model, a combination of continuous, specialized mentoring and social skills training. The program will match 30 foster youth from around the city with 30 carefully selected and matched mentors.

The idea is to provide each foster teen with a mentor who will stick with them regardless of where the teen might live or go to school. The mentors will meet with the foster youth throughout high school, beginning in ninth grade and continuing through graduation.

In addition, Dr. Williams will teach a social skills training course to help the foster youth develop many skills that, due to their circumstances, they often lack. Some of those include dealing with frustration, negative emotion and disappointment, being able to ask for or offer help and being able to work collaboratively with peers.

“My goal is to give them the skills to become their own best advocate,” Dr. Williams said.

He said he wants to help the foster youth find their own voice so that they can speak up when something isn’t right and to teach them how to “communicate that something is wrong and get people to listen… as opposed to cussing them out, flipping over a table, walking out of a classroom or going AWOL.”

Dr. Williams said he partnered with Big Brothers Big Sisters because the nearly 100-year-old organization has the nationally recognized mentoring model.

“We’ve always served [foster youth] but never with a specific program, so this is our opportunity to develop and refine and create a program that hopefully we can replicate outside of Philadelphia,” Qualli said.

To measure the program’s success, Dr. Williams will rely mostly on qualitative research. He plans to sit down with each student and document his or her success in the program twice each year.

“The most powerful part of this is going to be the youth telling their narratives,” he said.

Next steps
At the moment, Big Brothers Big Sisters is in the process of identifying both potential mentors and mentees for the program. Both groups will go through intensive interviewing and screening before any matches are made.

Qualli said the organization is in need of mentors and is looking for people who can commit a minimum of a year and who want to make a positive impact in the life of a foster child.

After the matching process is complete, the mentoring and social skills training may kick off officially in the summer or fall.

Anyone interested in learning more about this or other Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring opportunities may contact Katherine Scholle at KScholle@bbbssepa.org or 484-482-1417.

Photo via Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern Pennsylvania

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