No More Trash Bag Kids – Part 2
Improving children’s lives by changing mindsets
So our foster youth have experienced severely adverse childhood experiences that are further reinforced by the ways they experience foster care. Fortunately, new research can help us overcome these difficult circumstances. Two key strategies are to reduce the adverse childhood experiences and strengthen relationships that protect children from the effects of stress. Among key protective factors are positive role models and consistent, stable and appropriate relationships with adults. In particular, having a relationship with a caring adult outside the family has a meaningful impact on an at-risk child’s well-being. These relationships can help children learn to stay calm, be interested in learning, care about school, get more exercise, join after school activities, and avoid bullying.
One of the most promising ways that consistent, caring adults can help foster youth is by helping them get out of the hopeless mindset and into a success mindset. At the recent HOPE Global Forum, I was struck by a comment by Ricardo Semler, Chairman and Non Executive Partner of Semco Partners: “without hope, there is very little statistical chance life will ever work out.”
In my work with CASA volunteers over the last 21 years, I have frequently seen the corollary to Semler’s comment: a hopeful, success-oriented mindset is a key ingredient in overcoming a history of serious maltreatment. Research over at least a decade has shown just how important this is. Carol Dweck has written about the key differences between “fixed” mindsets—in which failure becomes permanent trauma—and “growth” mindsets, which accept failures as challenges to be overcome. The approach Dweck and others suggest is not just simply telling kids to be hopeful. There are evidence-based ways to help children develop a growth mindset. The evidence of this approach’s impact on educational success is particularly encouraging.
Conversations with young people served by CASA volunteers confirm to me that for decades, this approach has been an inherent part of the way our volunteers work. Themes like consistency support, caring listening, guiding—these are what the young people think were the most impactful part of the volunteers’ work. Clearly, while the court work is important, it is the relationship and its positive and consistent motivation that means the most to the children.
Within the CASA for Children network, we have been specifically applying research about mindset and positive self-identity in our work with older youth for several years. Because CASA volunteers are often the most trusted and consistently present adult in a foster child’s life, they are in an ideal position to apply the evidence-based mindset approaches. The particular research we have used had shown positive and sustained impacts on at risk youth in academic initiative, test scores, grades, depression, school behavior and absences. Applying this evidence-based approach to foster youth, we believe we can help them rise above the negative messages given by the system, help them understand they can be successful, while recognizing that they will face challenges and can learn to deal with them.
One of the great strengths of this approach is that it does not foster further dependency. In her testimony to Congress, T. Ortiz Walker Pettigrew described how foster care often “normalizes the idea to youth that other people are supposed to control their lives and circumstances.” The mindset and “possible selves” research counteracts this by fostering protective factors and a more positive identity in the young people themselves.
Every child under the care and protection of the state due to abuse or neglect deserves to have a caring adult whose commitment is to say “I am for the child.”An adult whose very presence will convince a child that he or she is no trashbag kid, no paycheck kid. I invite you to be part of this movement.*
Humboldt AVA will be collecting duffel bags, small suitcases, etc., for foster youth. The bags will contain a hygiene kit, small stuffed animal, coloring books and crayons or books (age appropriate). Donations of any of these items are greatly appreciated. Donations may be dropped off at 26 Twyila Court, 1168 Cosgrave Avenue, or 3320 Potbelly Road. AVA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and all donations are tax-deductible and a receipt provided. Monetary donations are accepted and can be donated via PayPal or mailed to us. Simply visit our website at www.humboldtava.com and click on the PayPal button. All proceeds go to direct services as AVA is an all-volunteer organization.
* Written by former National CASA CEO, Michael Piriano and can be read in its entirety at www.casaforchildren.org. Used with permission.