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The Institute for Women's Leadership (IWL), Rutgers University, and the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology (GSAPP) received a gift of $150,000 from the Cape Branch Foundation to support the Young Women's Foster Care Mentoring Project, a three-year initiative to link undergraduate students with the Center for Applied Psychology at GSAPP to mentor young women in foster care. The purpose of the project is to strengthen and expand the Adolescent Girls in Resource Care Psychotherapy Group by adding a mentoring component to the program. (Resource care includes placements in foster, relative and adoptive families.)

The funds will provide participants in Adolescent Girls in Resource Care Psychotherapy Group the opportunity to be mentored by successful Rutgers undergraduate students and to participate in activities to increase their awareness of personal strengths as well as make a successful transition from high school to college. At the same time, the program will provide an important opportunity for IWL students to learn about mentoring, to serve as role models, to increase their understanding of challenges facing adolescent girls in foster care, and to use their leadership skills to develop and implement program activities for underserved high school students.

Need for Foster Care Support Services for Adolescent Girls

There are approximately 500,000 children in foster care across the United States, approximately 10,000 of whom are in New Jersey's foster care system. Children in foster care are some of New Jersey's neediest and most vulnerable individuals. They have often switched homes and schools several times, never able to feel settled or secure.

Youth 13 to 17 years old make up 30% of the population of foster children in New Jersey. A significant number of youth remain in the child welfare system until services end (they "age out"). Youth who age out of foster care often lack the support they need to move successfully into adulthood. National research shows they are less likely to complete high school, more likely to be poor and more likely to experience homelessness than their peers. Children in foster care are at higher risk for mental health problems, health problems and developmental delays as compared with their peers not in foster care. They are "particularly at risk in terms of their social skills" and "those who are older, live in group homes or have been sexually abused are most at risk" for problems (National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being).

However, in their article "When Adulthood Comes Early," the Association for Children of New Jersey urges us not to conclude that foster youth are doomed to fail. "Many emerge from foster care with uncommon resilience. Their potential must be tapped." Over the past twenty years, the Foster Care Counseling Project at GSAPP has witnessed this resilience in many of the children who receive their services, including those participating in the Adolescent Girls in Resource Care Psychotherapy Group which began in 2006 with support from the Division of Youth and Family Services.

Program Goals for the Young Women's Foster Care Mentoring Project

The Psychotherapy Group at GSAPP was designed to bring adolescent girls in resource care together, to help them realize they are not alone in their struggles, and that there are others who understand and can relate to their fears and frustrations. The group, conducted by GSAPP graduate students under the supervision of the Foster Care Counseling's Project Director, addresses topics such as grief and loss, morals and values, substance abuse, sexuality and pregnancy prevention, education, and personal choices. The group's goals include fostering supportive relationships, enhancing self esteem, processing past experiences of abuse and loss, and empowering group members. The new Young Women's Foster Care Mentoring Project in collaboration with the Institute for Women's Leadership will build on this group experience and the participants' strengths and resilience to help them tap their potential.

Many youth in foster care lack positive role models and the involvement of supportive adults to guide them and affirm their self worth and potential for educational achievement. Adolescents in foster care often feel misunderstood by and socially isolated from their peers and have difficulty trusting others and building positive relationships. The new Young Women's Foster Care Mentoring Project will address the need for adolescent girls in foster care to interact and learn from positive role models.

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