Written by Holly Ramey
What happens when a young adult ages out of foster care? Typically, they are 18 years old and have few stable relationships to guide them. While technically an adult, we can all think back to 18 and remember it is still very much a learning stage of life. Guidance and support are vital! That’s where Connections Homes steps in.
Connections Homes is a non-profit serving youth, ages 18 to 24, who have aged out of foster care or are homeless without family. Through their Choice-Based Matching Model, youth are matched to a Mentoring Family who commits to being a part of their life- for life. Mentoring families can designate their availability when they apply. Perhaps they can meet a few times a month, others can meet weekly. The Connections Homes team pairs youth and mentors accordingly.
Director Pam Parish founded Connections Homes based on her own experience as a foster family. After watching a 2006 PBS special that highlighted the need for older children and youth to be adopted, she and her husband, Steve, immediately signed up for classes. The Parish family’s first calling to adopt came in mid-2007 with an 11-year-old girl, the same age as their biological daughter.
From there Pam got involved with the adoption agency. She was teaching classes and became a certified trainer for the state curriculum to prepare foster and adoptive families. While the Parish family wasn’t seeking a second adoption, through the course of her involvement they learned of a 15-year-old whose adoptive parents had returned her to foster care. Says Pam, “We made the decision to make her a part of our family as well, becoming a family of five.”
Over the next six years, between 2007 and 2013, four more girls joined the Parish family. All were over the age of 18 and came from various circumstances without supportive adults in their lives. “Through our daughters’ stories, I began to look at what happens to youth who exit foster care as young adults without a safe, stable family.”
The statistics Pam found were astounding. Youth aging out of Georgia’s Foster Care System continues to be an ever-growing issue with anywhere from 300-700 youth aging out in a given year. These youth exit care without a single trusted adult to help them navigate life. Ninety-seven percent of these youth will end up in chronic poverty and 71% of girls will find themselves pregnant in the first year (many repeating the child welfare cycle as their own children will enter foster care).
“Knowing what could have happened to our six adopted daughters without stability in their lives, we decided that more had to be done to make others aware,” shares Pam. That’s when she founded Connections Homes.
Since its 2013 founding, Connections Homes has matched and supported 230 + Georgia youth with Mentoring Families. The group believes young adults should not have to navigate life alone.
“Most youth coming into Connections Homes have a childhood marred by adults making decisions on their behalf in which they didn’t have control or consent,” says Pam. This is why the Choice Based Matching Model consists of two very important values; the youth must have a choice and a voice. The individual aging out of foster care will be involved in choosing their Mentoring Family.
Connections Homes also has a program to prepare Mentoring Families for the lifelong commitment to a young person coming from hard places. The curriculum, titled Redemptive Connection Framework™, provides a toolbox to lay the foundation for creating a sense of belonging with their matched youth. “Belonging” is the number one thing these young people crave. Secondly, and no less important, is the need for self-efficacy. Mentoring Families will be taught to pour into these needs.
In order for Connection Homes to expand upon its mission to empower youth without family to thrive in life and impact the world from the security of a healthy connection, the organization needs support. The mentoring relationship is vital, but many young people also need mental health therapy, resume and job search assistance, or financial help. The list goes on. Connections Homes is constantly seeking ways they can grow its services and level of support to each young adult.
“Restoring a sense of family and belonging to a youth who otherwise has no one is one of the greatest joys of the work that we do,” Pam states. Her own family has grown to 17! She has eight adult daughters, three sons-in-law, and four grandchildren. “These youth are all worth it. They are our future and we can’t continue to let them be invisible and fall through the cracks.”
One person can truly make a difference in helping young people become successes rather than statistics. Whether it’s time, talents, or finances you could have an impact. For the holidays, they accept gift cards to give to youth in their program who have no family to give them presents. Connections Homes can be reached at 470-266-1462 or via their website connectionshomes.org.