“Thrive” is a word we use a lot here at Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, especially in October. Our 2019 Changemakers keynote speaker, Michael Bonner said in a recent interview, “I don’t want to survive. I want to thrive.”
During the Young Families Thrive Summit on Friday, October 4, change and thriving were also in the air.
More concretely, senators, community organizations, young people with lived experience, and the Steering Committee got together to create some proactive initiatives for young families. The Steering Committee is comprised of young pregnant/parenting members who advocate and provide firsthand pregnant and/or parenting insight.
One Steering Committee member, who had been through the foster care system, said, “I struggled to use my voice. I struggled to accept it. 47 percent of kids age 0-5 currently in the system have parents who were in the system. I am that statistic.”
Senator Machaela Cavanaugh and members of the event Steering Committee, including the Chair, Bobbi Taylor, also gave their opening remarks.
The attendees then gathered into breakout groups based on 5 different topic areas identified by young people during the event planning process:
- Data Collection and Parental Involvement (custodial or non-custodial involvement in parenting decisions and support)
- Placements (placement options for youth in child welfare/juvenile justice out-of-home care that are expecting/parenting that support both them and their children)
- Informal Supports (supportive and permanent relationships with adults/peers in the life of an expectant/parenting youth in care that are not paid)
- Flexible Education Opportunities (supports/services that encourage expectant/parenting youth in care to work towards education goals; and Parenting Voice and Choice (advocacy opportunities for expectant/parenting youth in care and having decision-making power in the decisions that affect them and their children)
Attendants confronted several startling statistics throughout this discussion, including one provided by the Department of Health and Human Services and Children and Family Services:
47% of state wards that are age 4 and under have at least one parent who was a state ward.
32% of Connected Youth Initiative Transitional Services Survey respondents are either pregnant with parenting.
With these hefty statistics in mind, we elicited some questions.
How can we break an inter-generational barrier? How can we proactively educate youths that have recently exited the child welfare system? How can we educate young people on contraception, healthy relationships, and parenting before pregnancy occurs?
One question that arose during this discussion echoed throughout the day: “Where are the fathers in all this? Where is the data? How do we find them? What father engagement programs are currently available, and what can be done to further develop impactful fatherhood programs?”
A representative from Nebraska Children’s Home Society said that sometimes, for fathers to successfully convene, a male-led group is the most effective.
“If they’re having real conversations about being a dad, they’ll want it to be with other dads,” she said.
There are other statistics which promote this sense of urgency, too. Kids with an attentive father figure are more likely to stay in school and less likely to remain in prison.
Aside from the gaps in data concerning young fathers, there were other topics introduced as well. Overall, themes echoed throughout the day: young parents need more accessible resources and follow-up which feels authentic and relational, not enforcing. According to a Steering Committee member, another hot-button topic for young parents is flexible education.
As a young mother, applying to colleges was difficult, but opportunities to attend other schools was even harder. Eventually, she found a college that accommodated single mothers with on-campus housing. She earned her degree at a high-quality college, but is now facing a high level of college debt.
Quality childcare arose as another dominant theme supported by a Steering Committee member. The member said that her child had gone through eight daycares due to the neglectful and abusive environment.
Sara Riffel of Nebraska Children’s Connected Youth Initiative pointed out that unconnected youth are initially focused on survival, but when they become pregnant, they must shift their focus and ask for their child’s well-being.
So, the question and theme linger: how can someone who has dedicated most of her life to surviving then begin thriving, as a parent and a person?
Another call-to-action included the importance of foster youths’ voices being heard. There’s a need for an authentic peer-to-peer network. The vision would entail a strength-based, supportive youth platform. This supportive platform would encourage young people to talk openly, provide information on health and development, be led by well-trained leaders, and even provide training for foster parents that support pregnant youth.
So, how do we help our foster youth, not only in surviving but also thriving?
Although the question remains, discussions are happening. Throughout these dialogues, with the help of our Steering Committee and state partners, we’ll continue to create positive change for Nebraska’s children through community engagement.
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