I’ve been helping a private client connect to her heart, and one of the skills we were working on is discovering our truest desires. Sometimes we can barely admit to ourselves what these are, or we figure “why bother” because they seem so unattainable. For this client, the desire was happiness. Read more…

Feedback I live for (but try not to expect)

As a program developer, I am putting systems in place to measure the outcomes of my work. But at the same time, the teacher in me tries to nurture a certain detachment in this very regard. In my own experience as a student, there have been certain lessons, certain relationships whose significance remained obscure to me for years. This is true in education and, arguably, truer still in youth development. If we are working to endow individuals with resources to transform their lives, we have to be ready to play the long game. We can never really know if, when, and which of the many seeds we’ve sprinkled will take root. Teaching is not unlike gardening in the sense that on top of skill, it also requires a goodly amount of confidence in that skill, patience, and faith that eventually our efforts will bear fruit. (more…)

Community and connection

Last week I gave the final workshop for the current crop of AdoptMent mentees. We decided to cap our transition curriculum with a tool for mapping out their support networks and maintaining strong connections with everyone in it. In the example I gave them of my own support network, I distinguished between the types of support I looked for in different individuals: I turn to my oldest friend to talk about family stuff, I turn to another for laughs, and still another for a shoulder to cry on. I also specified the medium by which I communicate with each person, since I’ve learned from my youth work that it’s vital to be attuned to people’s communication preferences (email, Twitter, text, call…).

Take a look at this young person’s community map. There is a lot here, but I especially want to call attention to her inclusion of her beloved Tio. Johanna continues to count on him as a source of support even though he passed away earlier this year. (I learn so much from my young people.) (more…)

Case in point

Well, I promised to follow up my last post with some good news, and I know that at least one of my readers will be disappointed that she won’t get to read about the sense of optimism I feel in the air just yet. Instead, I’m gonna hang out on my soapbox for a little while longer because I’m still working through my irritation.

Last night’s Teens in Foster Care panel was very odd. I think the organizers felt like everyone in the room was on the same page regarding permanency for youth in care 14 and older (roughly 3600 of New York City’s 12,000 children in the system). Funny thing though: I don’t think the panel realized how deeply their message conflicted with one of their guest speaker’s most important points. …And then things got even worse.

Let’s do this good/bad/ugly style.


Cris Beam. CRIS BEAM. I’d seen her give a reading to a group of young writers back in December, so I’d already heard the whole spiel of how a teenaged daughter entered her life with the suddenness of an unplanned pregnancy. Tonight, however, Beam came with a stronger agenda and she prefaced her reading by dropping some data.

Here’s some straight from NYC ACS: Between the ages of 14 and 15 only 17% of young people in foster care wish to exit the system as an independent adult. By the time they reach 17, however, the percentage of youth who wish to age out to independent living rises to 94%. That means that by 17, only 6% of young people in foster care want to be adopted.


Complaints, concerns, but also causes for optimism

I’ve been delaying writing this post because for a stretch I was too outraged about certain things I’d been hearing in the foster care scene. Outrage is healthy if you can articulate it well and channel it productively, but anger is not the emotion I want to lead with. So, what’s changed? So much in the last two weeks, it seems! But before I get to the good news, let’s start with the issues.


1. Housing is the number one problem facing my emerging leaders, the youngest of whom just turned 21. At the beginning of last semester, we went around the table introducing ourselves to each other. I was struck that with the exception of the two eldest, who are working professionals in child welfare, every single person at the table was facing some form of housing crisis. A couple had to get extensions for their time in care; a couple others didn’t secure formal extensions, but were able to remain in their foster homes out of the generosity of foster parents willing to house them for just a little longer; one was on the verge of losing a NYCHA apartment due to bureaucratic inefficiencies; and still another two were worried that their agencies weren’t moving quickly enough on their housing applications.  (more…)

#AdoptMent youth take personal stock

I’ve been reticent to blog about my work with the AdoptMent group because they’re a younger set and I’m more protective of their privacy. This is a transitional year, not just within the program, but also in the lives of each of these young people. In my first session with them this school year, we returned to the tasks of adolescent development, but instead of focusing broadly on the topic of identity, this time we talked about personal values and relationships, especially how to strike a healthy balance between independence and connectedness.

Last spring I used Zits comics to get the conversation started. We returned to two strips that dealt specifically with identity exploration, and was really pleased that they all retained the biggest lesson from last spring’s identity self-portrait activity, namely that at this early stage in life staying true to yourself is overrated, and identity crises are actually a healthy part of psychological development.

From that group review, everyone paired off with their mentors to discuss comic strips treating the developmental tasks related to autonomy, relationships, and values. The mentors had handouts that indicated the tasks displayed in each strip, but the mentees first had to work on inferring the topic from the material. The second step in the exercise was to reflect on how they were progressing in each of those tasks. I got to eavesdrop on a lot of wonderful stories about how these young people set up challenges for themselves (e.g., earning the money and planning transportation for a solo trip to New Jersey), and noted how their relationships to their parents were in transition

The final part of the workshop had everyone select one particular developmental task that posed a significant challenge to him or her. (more…)