Friends of the Children is a national program in which professional mentors commit to friendship with a child for 12.5 years, no matter what. Every year, local Friends of the Children chapters reach out to DCYF caseworkers for help identifying youth who could truly benefit from the program.
What distinguishes Friends of the Children is its paid professional mentor model, its youth selection and the longevity of the mentoring. Their professional mentors have youth development backgrounds and commit to more than a decade of friendship. “Some mentors have been in foster care themselves,” said Steve Lewis, Executive Director for Friends of the Children’s Seattle chapter.
These mentors spend four hours every week both in a child’s actual classroom and out. After school, the pair head out into the world to have fun or to Friends of the Children facilities where they can do homework, play games, read, paint, share a meal or conversation – you name it.
“The kids own this space,” says Steve. “After school, they can come here and decompress and not have to sit still. It really is like a second home.”
Behind the scenes, mentors advocate for the youth and act as an extra voice. In some instances, they provide valuable insight and notes to DCYF caseworkers that can improve youth outcomes. Because of the close partnership with DCYF, mentors are also able to offer additional support during disruptive times for a child, like when they are moving between homes. For kids coming from foster care, this consistent presence is tremendously valuable in navigating transition and lived trauma.
“I’ve lived in Washington all my life and operational gaps persist for youth in poverty and foster care with only a patchwork of solutions,” said Steve. “This program gets to the core of the issue. Our mentors, no matter what, won’t let a child slip through the cracks.”