Pay It Forward
Are you in foster care or have you been in foster care? Do you have family members that you want to find or have you been told that you have no relatives? It can be heartbreaking to know that you might have a sibling out there that you can’t find because you were separated in foster care, but there are people who can help! Some Independent Living programs in Washington provide a relative search program aimed at helping foster youth find family members who they have either lost contact with or don’t know they have.
I personally know these programs can be successful. When I was two years old, my two older brothers were removed from my mother’s care while I was left behind. Eighteen years later, the Lifelong Connections program helped me to find my older brother who I couldn’t find on my own. It turns out, his name changed when he was adopted out of foster care. Now, we are in regular contact and are planning a meetup so we can see each other and introduce our children to their family.
Each relative search program has a different name across the state, but they all have the same purpose: to help foster youth find their relatives. I spoke to Abbi Griffin at the YMCA Lifelong Connections Program to find out more about how the YMCA’s program works and what programs like it can do for foster youth. Since the Lifelong Connections program started in April of 2013, it has served over 40 youth and young adults, identified about 720 possible connections, and helped create lasting connections with over 330 supportive adults (as of March 17th, 2015)!
What can Lifelong Connections do, other than just help a youth find family members? According to Abbi, “A critical and unique part of our program is that we offer to help facilitate these connections. It can be awkward to meet someone for the first time or even for the first time in 10 years. As a part of the program, I am present as a familiar face and support for the connection process.” Abbi also explained that the program can help provide funding for activities during reconnection, including: “[The] family fun center, bowling, coffee, movies, roller skating,” and more!
|Want to get in contact with your local relative search program?|
|Seattle: Abbi Griffin at the YMCA 206-437-2166|
|Yakima: Sara Caricchio at Catholic Family and Child Services 509-965-7100|
As with all good things, however, there are often challenges. Some of the challenges that Abbi runs into when helping youth find family members are: having a youth whose file is no longer easily accessible through DSHS due to aging out of foster care; having pertinent information removed from the files of youth who have aged out; and not being able to find current contact information for family members. But fear not, people who work in these family-finding programs are doing that work because they want to help you and won’t give up easily.
When I asked Abbi what she liked most about her work, she said, “What I enjoy most about doing relative search work is the opportunity to connect youth and young adults to supportive adults. It is amazing to locate connections where both youth and their families had no idea that one another existed. When you begin this work, you never know what you may find. The possibilities are endless!”