Foster care organizations do selfless work to keep countless children from homelessness. But those children grow up — and then what happens to them? Many young people transitioning to adulthood have families who are able and willing to help, but foster children don’t have this luxury. The National Institute of Health conducted a study on children who grew up in foster care and found 46 percent of the children in their study had experienced homelessness at least once before they turned 26.
Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services of Missouri is working to lower that percentage and help foster children transition into a brighter, more hopeful adulthood. In Boone County, PCHAS offers transitional living for girls as well as therapeutic mentoring for children and teens. All PCHAS services are provided for free in all counties where PCHAS offices are located (Boone County, St. Francois County, Greene County, and St. Louis).
“We serve girls ages 16 to 21 and we provide them with tools for independent living,” says Dana Ortman, site manager of PCHAS’s Raleigh House for Girls in Columbia, which offers the residential services.
Having a transitional living facility helps the girls focus on things like school work and saving money from their jobs. Even after these girls have gone into the community, they still receive support from PCHAS.
“We’ve seen what happens when girls enter the community with minimal supervision,” says Jason Beard, mentoring services manager at PCHAS, “and they’re often unsuccessful.”
Beard says PCHAS tries to offer the best of both worlds, allowing the girls to learn independently while also offering the structure of staff support. Even when the girls move to a truly independent living situation, they can continue to receive support from the Missouri Children’s Division and other social service professionals until deemed no longer necessary.
Mentoring for All
Part of the support PCHAS offers in Boone County is therapeutic mentoring for foster children who’ve experienced trauma.
“Years ago, there wasn’t a lot of focus on trauma and how that affects kids throughout the rest of their lives,” Beard says. “I was amazed at how [trauma] affects brain development, overall health, and life expectancy.”
Therapeutic mentoring is something that PCHAS offers to everyone who comes through their program. Therapeutic mentoring is not clinical by definition. Mentors, who can be either male or female, are volunteers who spend time with their mentee and work on skills like building relationships, professional behavior at work, and even things like basic car maintenance. “These kids come from facilities where everything has been done for them and they really need to learn how to handle their own lives,” Ortman says.
In addition to volunteer mentors, PCHAS also works to recruit individuals who have had experiences with high risk youth. Those recruited have backgrounds (whether educational or occupational) in human services, education, early childhood development, and sociology.
Therapeutic mentoring is something that PCHAS like to make available to all children in Columbia Public Schools. It’s a real possibility, Beard says, since PCHAS announced it will merge with an affiliate organization, Presbyterian Children’s Home & Services of Texas and Louisiana, in 2018. According to Beard, the merger “allows both groups to combine resources, and it will make us a larger agency that can provide more services and should be very positive.” PCHAS of Texas and Louisiana serves approximately 2,800 children and families each year.
A Group Effort
The community can also help by donating professional clothes that a young person might wear at a job interview. Many PCHAS clients have little more than a pair of blue jeans and a couple of T-shirts and could use some clothes that would be more appropriate for attaining a job.
Beard credits many Boone County organizations for support of their programs,
like the Boone County Children’s Services Fund, Boone County Family Resources, and Family Access Center of Excellence of Boone County.
“These kids really are our future, and so the community needs to embrace them,” Ortman says.
PCHAS would like to continue growing and developing their programs and incorporate people who would like to support them. Beard says PCHAS would like more partnerships with MU, for instance — working with students of social work and psychology would be beneficial. “We’ve recruited some students,” she says, “but I’d like to get the university even more involved.”
While they look for ways to expand their services for those in foster care, it’s important to note that PCHAS does not help only children who’ve been in the system. “The mentoring is a service that is free to residents of Boone County,” Beard says. “Kids don’t have to come to us from foster care or from the courts. A parent can pick up the phone and say they would like for their child to have a mentor. And we can help them out with that.”
Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services of Missouri
“We provide Christ-centered support care and support to children and families in need.”
21 staff members working at both the Raleigh House for girls and the Therapeutic Mentoring Program
Needs from the community
Volunteer mentors and nice clothes for young people (for job interviews)
Board members in Columbia
On the Horizon
Merger with Presbyterian Children’s Home & Services of Texas and Louisiana t in 2018