YouthSpeak: Reconnecting with Family

We asked California Scholars:  “Did you attempt or succeed in reconnecting with family members AFTER you left foster care? If so, how did this impact your education?”

“I reconnected with my family after leaving foster care. It was definitely rocky as I was trying to reestablish relationships in California while going to school in Washington, DC. It was an emotional and physical roller-coaster to reconnect but after seeking counseling services at school for mental support and a lot of prayer, I was able to connect with parents and some of my siblings. Though we had several rocky days and some good days, I couldn’t keep in touch as often as I liked to. It helped to know in the back of my mind when it got really hard that there wasn’t any bad blood between my bio family and I. They were happy I was pursuing my dreams despite everything. Additionally, during the good times it was nice to know I had a place to go during school breaks, because that was major stressor.”
—Briana Osbourne, Howard University, Sacramento

“I went back to living with my mentally ill mother after foster care. We were on welfare and I had to get a full-time job by the time I turned 18 and my welfare check ended. I got my first full-time job two weeks before I graduated high school at age 17. I had earned scholarships in high school and was in the CSF and other honor societies, but was still only $1,000 shy of being able to afford tuition for college and just couldn’t come up with it no matter how hard I tried. So I went to work full-time and tried to go to school part-time while working; but my mother kept having nervous breakdowns and I missed too many classes because of it. Since I had to make all of her medical decisions, work full-time and still tried to go to college, I missed too much school and only earned a few credits. I was disappointed, but “real life” was hard for me and there were no programs back in the 1970’s or even computers for crowdfunding programs like they have for college age former foster care youth now.”
— Kathy Jones, American River College, Sacramento

” I did make an attempt to contact biological family after leaving foster care. Although none of my family had answered. When I was 14, in my 3rd placement, I found out my mother had left a life insurance policy for me. It turns out that she did not pay the last bill. Anyways my family called me and asked me what I was going to do with the money and I had told them I was going to use it for tuition towards college. They then said, “We will talk to you later.” and they never called me back again. They only cared about the money. Although most of my family is unreachable, I still have contact with my cousin through Facebook and we call each other every now and then. We are planning to see each other soon.”
— John Devine Jr., California State University, San Bernardino

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Nine Ideas from the young leaders of FosterClub about how you can help college age foster youth connect with biological family, and stay focused on higher education at the same time.

  1. While still in care, support a youth in making thoughtful and safe reconnections. Let the youth know you are there to support them in their transition into adulthood, and offer support when asked. Communicate to youth that your support is permanent. This will provide much-needed piece of mind for college-aged youth reconnecting with family members.
  2. Explain the concept of boundaries.  Young people from foster care often have undefined or unhealthy boundaries with biological family. In some cases, youth have been placed in a reversal of roles with parents, or have been taken advantage of by those they should have been able to trust. Help youth understand what healthy boundaries are and how to establish and maintain them.
  3. Provide youth with the opportunity to practice communication skills and upholding boundaries through scenarios and role-play.  Saying ‘no’ or being firm can be tough with a relative that you are trying to maintain or establish a relationship with. Ensure youth are ready to uphold boundaries by role-playing various scenarios.
  4. Check judgments at the door.  Even if a biological relative is still making poor life decisions, a young person can still feel a lot of love and longing for a relationship. If your body language and/or words are expressing disappointment about the youth’s desire to reach out to bio-family, it can result in a lack of trust.
  5. Help adoptive, ‘chosen’ family, and biological family understand they ALL have a role to play.  Many youth struggle with the idea of believing that they must choose one family over another. Help youth and family members alike understand that the youth will benefit from ALL of the positive relationships in their life – and that they should not feel placed in a position to choose one person over another.
  6. Encourage family traditions.  Youth in care often recognize that they lack family traditions to call their own. Help youth rekindle traditions that they remember from their biological family or help them invent their own family traditions.
  7. Assist with family finding.  It’s never too late to look. Relatives may be in a very different place or stage of life since the last time a youth was connected to them. Help youth safely search for relatives using the internet, outreach to other family members, case file mining, or other techniques.
  8. Start slow and manage expectations. Help youth navigate their way through the reconnecting process with an open mind. Help them realize that not everyone is ready to connect at the same time (in other words – be prepared for a family member who may not be ready for reconnection at this specific moment). By taking small steps towards reconnecting, more reluctant family members feel less pressure.
  9. Use the Permanency Pact. Use FosterClub’s free tool to define roles for relatives and other supportive adults. The Pact can help a young person — even those who are very independent and determined to make it on their own — realize the importance of family and family-like relationships with supportive adults.

CONNECT YOUR YOUTH! For more information about how to connect young people with our California Scholars network, please contact Rusty Johnson at rusty@fosterclub.com or call (714) 619-8418.