Bethany Christian Services, Grand Rapids, Michigan (www.bethany.org)
Refugee Foster Care Mentoring Program of Bethany Christian Services
Through coordinated mentor relationships, support groups and casework services, the mentoring program will enable refugee youth to become self-sufficient by emancipation from foster care at age 21.
Youth ages 14 to 20 in a specialized foster care program for refugee minors without family in the U.S. are matched with adult mentors from the community for weekly contact of at least one hour. Youth opinion is solicited as part of the mentor matching process, including the suggestion of mentors from youth themselves. Mentors go through a screening and training process and commit to being a mentor for at least one year. Mentors also keep a log of their contact with youth; this information is also available to case managers. Youth and mentors participate in separate monthly support group meetings with the mentor coordinator. Youth who have been in the U.S. for six months or less participate in a group twice per month for more intensive support.
The program uses Bethany's in-house independent living curriculum.
The program serves a multi-ethnic group of refugee children and youth who have been separated from their families due to war, civil unrest and flight. Countries/regions of origin include: China, Bosnia, Central America, Congo, Somalia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Sudan Liberia, Burma, Afghanistan, Haiti.
The program is funded by the Michigan Family Independence Agency (DHS) through a federal reimbursement by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (HHS/ACF/ORR).
Four staff work in this program:
The program supervisor and mentor coordinator are licensed social workers. Aside from required agency training, the mentor coordinator is being trained by the agency's volunteer coordinator on recruitment and retention strategies.
Success will be measured by both the acquisition of practical skills needed for independent living and emancipation from foster care, as well as the avoidance of risk behaviors such as pregnancy, substance abuse, early school termination and delinquent behavior.
The program has just begun, so no outcomes measures are available at this time. Evaluation surveys will be conducted after each group meeting, quarterly reports will be submitted to the funder, and feedback on mentoring relationships will be sought from youth and mentors.
Under state regulations, youth in foster care must complete a ten week "Life Skills" class. BCS foster care staff developed this mentor program after observing that the ten week class was not sufficient to prepare refugee youth for self-sufficiency. The mentoring program augments the state required life skills education.
Mentoring Program Supervisor
This program began March 1, 2006 and is still operating.