Building Relationships

“Efforts in preparing youths have historically been focused on skill building – how to budget money or buy food, for instance – but research shows that the most important predictor of success in youths who are aging out is not skills, but relationships.”

Social Work Today

Building Relationships

The importance of permanent relationships

Young people who age out of foster care without a permanent support system are more likely to be poor, to be homeless, to spend time in jail, and to have mental health and medical problems.

Helping youth develop meaningful relationships that they can rely on after foster care requires planning. It involves locating and supporting lifelong connections who can help them take their first steps into adulthood.

A permanent relationship is a connection with at least one adult who provides:

  • A safe, stable and secure relationship.
  • Love.
  • Unconditional commitment to the youth’s well-being.

Not all relationships are created equal. Not every connection will be lifelong and meaningful. Though such relationships are important for the youth’s well-being, we need to emphasize that other connections, such as those with neighbors, school friends and the like can open up doors to knowledge about an apartment, a first job and other opportunities. Youth need to know how to build these relationships early on.

Permanent connections

“The most valuable resource Project LIFE provides is making permanent connections – helping youth find positive people in their lives outside of foster family. Youth sometimes burn bridges, we teach them how to establish healthy relationships.”

— George Mack, Project LIFE Staff

Ask youth whether they can identify at least one reliable adult they can:

  • Go to for advice or guidance when making decisions and solving problems.
  • Go to for companionship when celebrating holidays, special occasions, and personal achievements.
  • Call at any time — even 2 a.m. — if they need help or just need someone who is willing to listen.
  • Easily access by telephone or in person.
  • Is NOT a boyfriend or girlfriend or current service worker.

Some people to consider:

  • Friends who are succeeding
  • Family members
  • Current caretakers or foster parents
  • People who previously gave good advice or provided care
  • A teacher, counselor or coach.
  • A friend, neighbor, mentor or minister
  • A former worker

Download the Permanency Checklist, Permanency Pact and Youth Connections Scale

Finding mentors for youth

“Mentoring relationships are associated with positive adjustment during the transition to adulthood for youth in foster care. Strategies to support natural mentoring relationships for this population should be developed and evaluated.”

— PEDIATRICS, Official Journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics

Mentors can help youth in foster care in key areas such as emotional and developmental support, academics, cultural empowerment, independent living skills and career development.

Some professional mentors are also available through programs such as the ACE mentor program, which involves mentorship for those interested in architecture, construction, engineering, and related areas of the building design and construction industry. Nonprofit organizations, such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Virginia Mentoring Partnership [] also can provide mentors.

Other youth can help build relationships

Other youth in foster care can be a great resource for youth in foster care in your charge. Their understanding of each other’s challenges is invaluable and provides the comfort of knowing that they are not alone in their situation. Project LIFE is one way to connect with other youth in foster care. Project LIFE Conferences are open to all youth in foster care and provide chances to make permanent connections with other youth in foster care and with adults who care about helping them.

“Project LIFE Conferences connected me with other youth in foster care, people like me. It is the connections that matter. They fill the gap. Now I want to have an impact. People helped me and I want to help other people.”

— Devitta, Project LIFE Participant, former youth in foster care

Emotional, financial and social support from parents or parent-like figures into young adulthood are crucial in maintaining a youth’s well-being. Helping youth understand the significance of developing sustainable relationships early on is a determining factor in their successful transition out of foster care.