Building Relationships

Did You Know?

“The single most important factor in your success after foster care is having a strong relationship with a trustworthy adult.”

— Talia Brown, Project Manager

Which kind of relationship is most important to you?

Why does this matter?

When you age out of foster care, you’ll have a lot of new responsibilities and a lot of decisions to make. Who is going to be looking out for you and helping you make the right decisions? You need to find someone who cares about you, gives good advice, and will be there for you for a long time. That means a “permanent relationship” with someone. That gives you “permanency.”

Building Relationships

All of these relationships are important for different reasons and in different situations. For youth in foster care, your natural family may not be able to take care of you right now so you may need to live with and build a relationship with a foster family or relatives who are not your parents.

Peers are comfortable to be around and can be fun to hang out with but they may not be the best source of information or advice and your well being may not be their top priority.

Mentors can help you figure out solutions to problems, give you accurate information, and challenge you to be the best you can be. Ideally, you’ll have all three kinds of relationships.

What is permanency?

Permanency is a long-term relationship that lasts even if you have a disagreement once in awhile. It is one you are willing to work on in order to keep it strong, by being a friend yourself or by listening and respecting the other person. Look for:

  • Someone you can go to for advice or guidance when making decisions and solving problems.
  • People you can go to for companionship when celebrating holidays, special occasions, and personal achievements.
  • Someone you can call at any time — even 2 a.m. —  if you need help or just need someone who is willing to listen.
  • A person who is easily accessible to you, either by telephone or in person.
  • Someone in addition to your boyfriend or girlfriend or current worker.

It is a long-term relationship with a reliable adult who wants you to succeed and helps you.

Permanency if you are still in foster care

Establishing a permanent relationship means you have permanent (forever) family connections – not just until you become an adult. As a person in foster care, you have three options:

  1. Reunification – a return to your home with custody returned to your natural parent.
  2. Placement with custody transfer – a home with a relative who is not your parent but who is given legal custody.
  3. Adoption – placement with people who want you to be part of their family forever. You legally become their child.

Why is permanency so important for me?

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. This is why your worker and others bring up the subject of permanent relationships so often.

A permanent relationship is a lifelong connection to a trusted adult and a community of support. Your chances of success in life are MUCH better when you have adults in your life who can be relied on and who care for you.

Yeah, Right! But I know how relationships end!

Teenagers in foster care often feel like they are forgotten. You’ve probably been disappointed by people you trusted. You may have had relationships that ended, promises that were not kept. Foster parents, your natural parents, even your workers, may not have stayed around or taken care of you the way they said they would.

While you can’t change the past, the future is ahead of you and you can make it better. You can find trustworthy people if you look in the right places and are careful about who you choose to be your friend.

Who cares about me?

You may be surprised at how many people may be willing to give you the permanent relationship you need. If you can’t think of someone immediately, start looking around your community, your school and among the people you meet within the foster care system. You may want to start building a relationship now so you have it when you need it. Some people to consider:

  • A former worker
  • Older friends who are succeeding
  • Family members
  • Your current caretakers or foster parents
  • People who previously gave you good advice or took care of you
  • A teacher, counselor or coach
  • A friend, neighbor, mentor or minister

How do I know if someone will be a good permanent relationship?

Look for people who have given you good advice in the past, who care enough to listen to you when you are trying to solve a problem or when you just feel sad or overwhelmed.

The people you can trust may not be the people you feel most comfortable with or the friends you like to hang out with. The people who are on your side are not just those who make you feel comfortable. Some of them may challenge you to do a better job or take a class that is tough or accept responsibility for your own decisions. You may not like their advice but it may still be good advice that will help you achieve your goals. So, never underestimate the relationships you are making now.

Do I have to find one do-it-all friend?

People will play different roles in your life. Some people may be able to help out with your first apartment. Another may point you to a good job. Others may listen and help you think through tough decisions. Others just help you feel OK and welcome. It may be that no one person can help you with everything. Try to build a support system of several people you can rely on.

Who can be my role model?

When you ask some people about role models, they talk about movie stars or the president or characters from books. While these models can inspire you, look closer to home for people whose lives and work you admire, maybe someone who has faced tough times and gotten through them. Who is that person for you? Can that relationship continue when you age out of foster care? What can you do to make sure it does?

I found a permanent relationship. Now what?

Relationships are two-way. You can’t say that you have a permanent relationship with someone without asking the other person if they agree. Perhaps the person you have in mind can provide some of the support you need but not all. It’s a good idea to discuss what you need and what the other person can give. You may not need help looking for a job but you may want a home for the holidays.

To make it easier to talk about your permanent relationship with someone, look at the Permanency Checklist. It includes a list of things you may need in order to feel safe and move forward. You may be surprised by the number of things that can affect your success after foster care.

To make you both aware of how important a lifelong connection is, you might want to print out the Pact and sign it. It is a milestone on your road to success.

Can other youth in foster care help me?

Yes! Other youth in foster care are a great resource. They understand the problems you’ve dealt with. They’ve dealt with the same ones. They may know ways to get help that you don’t know about. Most important, they are looking for good, permanent relations, too, so you can be a friend as well as looking for one.

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 give you many chances to make permanent connections with other youth in foster care and with adults who care. Youth from around the state come together to share experiences and be around people who have similar stories. The adults and youth in foster care who attend these conferences become permanent friends as well as good sources of information.

Another way to meet youth in foster care you can relate to is by attending Youth Network and other events for youth in foster care in your area. The Youth Network trains youth in foster care to speak in public. You can ask for help when you need to make a presentation in class or get trained to speak in public about foster care. Events occur throughout the state and all year so keep checking the calendar.

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