May is National Foster Care Month and is a time to recognize those that dedicate both their professional careers and personal lives to provide opportunities and supportive families for youth in need during tough transitional phases in life. It is a time to remember foster parents, mentors and child welfare professionals as well as all of the volunteers that contribute to help provide and raise awareness for youth during these often very challenging times.
Hale `Opio’s Transitional Family Homes program is a sector of foster care that specifically works with at-risk youth in very challenging family situations or lack of family altogether. The program aims to provide a safe and secure environment in a temporary foster home while providing a therapeutic component for the youth and their family or caretaker. With a goal of reunification in mind, the program and its workers are dedicated to aiding these youth in identifying traumatic issues or negative behaviors and helping them develop proper coping skills, so they can respond to life events in a more positive manner. Depending on the age of the youth entering the program, Hale `Opio also strives to help each youth create community connections and develop independent living skills, so they can function better in society and be better equipped to live independently if at the appropriate age.
“Our number one goal is to first meet their basic needs and then identify their specific trauma. We then attempt to help stabilize the youth’s areas of growth and work with the family or identified caretaker to get (youth) back to their homes as soon as possible,” said Kevin Lowry, TFH program director at Hale `Opio. “We attempt to create a safety net so they feel secure to open up about their feelings and life situations.”
Meeting basic needs and providing a relatively normal environment is the first step in helping these youth feel safe and cared for. From providing adequate meals everyday and ensuring they attend school to making sure they brush their teeth and have a safe place to sleep, Hale `Opio caretakers and TFH foster parents strive to provide a stable environment first, while identifying and addressing individual traumatic issues.
“The foster parent that can combine a home that is embracing, loving and provides a sense of warmth, combined with structure and accountability, gives the youth the best chance for success,” Lowry said. “Safety and a sense of belonging are crucial.”
According to the National Foster Care Coalition, on any given day there are more than 400,000 youth in foster care in the United States. While some of those youth will be reunited with their families, others will remain in this care until they age out of the program and are required to live independently. This is where Hale `Opio’s focus on helping these youth develop basic life skills is so important. Once 18, they will hopefully have the skills and connections to live independently if need be, have the ability to sustain a job and be able to navigate life with or without the support of their family or caretaker.
Some may wonder how the community can help support these programs or specifically Kauai youth in challenging circumstances. There are many different ways, and you do not have to be a foster parent, though there is a shortage of families in the nation and specifically Kauai. Communities need to embrace youth and be reminded that, in dealing with people you meet, you never know their personal circumstances. Treat them as you would your own ohana. Go the extra mile to help them feel supported, uplifted and important. Simply being there as a community for these youth is crucial to their success. Furthermore, if you know someone that is a foster parent or child welfare professional, tell him or her thank you today! Help them know how important their work is and that you are aware of the challenges that can come with it. Let us uplift these youth and dedicated professionals, so they know how important they are and that they have a community supporting and cheering for them and their success.
If you think you are interested in becoming a foster parent or want to know what the job entails, you can contact Kevin Lowry at email@example.com for more information.
Hale `Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families ona wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Esther Solomon at firstname.lastname@example.org For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kauai, please go to www.haleopio.org