We wrapped up the Partnered for Success pilot program with the 8th annual Pat’s Run this month. Considering PFS was born partially as a product of the Leadership though Action program (an amazing ASU leadership program started by the Pat Tillman Foundation) it was a great to take a step back and reflect on how far we have come as an organization and as young leaders.
I think it is important to be transparent in business, so I will start by telling you that our pilot program was very little like what I was expecting. I knew we would learn quite a bit about how to improve our program for the years to come (which we did, very much so!), but I had no idea the personal growth that would take place and how renewed my motivation and energy to change the child welfare industry would be. I gained a new perspective on what it truly is like to be a teen in the Arizona foster care system.
We learned that we need to plan significantly farther ahead and that there are hurdles that will ALWAYS accompany working with the state and we need to learn how to handle them more efficiently in the future. As expected, we did not have a 100% retention rate, but we took note on what we can do to increase our success. Our metrics survey did not pan out as well as we thought, and we learned we need to be sterner in some aspects. I also learned that each individual who we worked with, both mentors and youth partners, is an amazing person. They each have something special within them and together they give me hope for the future. These participants are the lifeblood of our organization and the motivation to keep me going.
I also learned that at the end of the day, teenagers are teenagers, no matter their living environment. They want to experience life for themselves, make their own mistakes, and they go through the same exact mental, emotional, and physical changes that all teens go through. My eyes were opened to the degree that youth in the system are ALLOWED to go through these changes. For example, feeling curious about things such as alcohol or cigarettes can mean your foster parents can’t handle your “severe rebellion” and it’s time for a new placement. Would you forever disown your own child if you caught them trying their first sip of beer? Feeling like no one understands you and wanting to just grow up and make your own rules means you are a problem child and dramatic behavioral changes must take place. I disagree. All this says to me is that teenagers are teenagers, not that all teenagers in the system are delinquents. The consequences of behavior that stereotypically accompany the transition from a child to a young adult are vastly different for those in and out of the system. They are much more dramatic. As much as I personally want each and every youth to stay on the straight and narrow and to make the best possible decisions for themselves, I think some of the things you experience as a teenager and becoming your own person are important to your development as a competent adult. A fine line must exist somewhere.
What are your thoughts? How should these types of situations be handled?