Mentoring youth both in and transitioning out of care, or those receiving child protection services presents unique opportunities and challenges for youth and the mentoring programs trying to serve them:
Children enter the child welfare system because of abuse or neglect, rather than delinquency. Although most are supported at home, those youth who are removed from their biological home may change care placements multiple times. Each placement brings a new community and culture for the youth to navigate. Young people in care have suffered multiple losses—their biological family, friends, neighbours, and teachers, possibly even their pets and their favourite toys— in addition to the abuse or neglect that brought them into care in the first place.
Children have different developmental needs at different ages. Involvement in the child welfare system impacts children in diverse ways, partly depending on how old they are. For example:
- Elementary school-age children (ages 6–10) can have difficulty forming relationships with adults when they experience a significant transition (such as entrance into the child welfare system). Some children may be very clingy in their interactions with adults, while others may be distant and dismissive; both behaviours stem from a fear that the adult will leave.
- Early adolescents (ages 11–14) begin to develop relationships with their peers but are still very dependent on their families. Youth in this stage are beginning to explore their personal strengths and identity, and without positive adult encouragement may seek recognition from others, including negative peer groups.
- Middle adolescents (ages 15–17) depend more on their peers than on family members. However, multiple placements may interfere with the ability of these youth to develop supportive, positive peer relationships, leaving them more vulnerable to negative peer influences.
- Older youth (18 to early 20s) want independence but may not have had sufficient education or work experience to be able to live independently. Lacking an understanding of how to get and keep a job, what healthy relationships look like, and how to set appropriate relationship boundaries can cause these youth to lag behind their peers developmentally.
Mental or Emotional Stability:
Because of the trauma they have experienced, children in care are more likely to have physical, mental, behavioural, emotional, and substance abuse problems, to engage in risky sexual behaviours, such as early initiation of sex, and to experience early pregnancy.
Children in care often change schools numerous times. As a result of regularly missing school, having to change schools frequently, and having their enrollment delayed every time they enter a new placement, young people in care are often academically behind their peers. Many find it difficult to form relationships with school staff who could support their academic success and/or help them to maintain the motivation to work hard in school.
Many adolescents in care lack adult support to learn critical job or
work-related skills. Lacking these capabilities, their employment
options suffer—12 to 18 months after “aging out” of the child welfare
system, only 38 percent of youth are employed, and less than half have
held a full-time job.