January is National Mentoring Month. Research has shown that mentoring programs can be an effective tool for enhancing the positive development of youth in the foster care system.
Over the past three decades, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has supported a variety of mentoring programs to meet the needs of at-risk and troubled youth. The office works on traditional one-on-one relationships, group mentoring, e-mentoring and other innovative approaches to reach teens.
One of the ways the office mentors youth is through Forget Me Not Children’s Services in California. The organization provides animal-assisted and horticultural therapeutic programs for youth in foster care in California communities.
The Forget Me Not Farm, in Northern California, runs a program that benefits 14-18 year-olds in foster care, and the animals they work with. The farm works with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of North Bay to match each teen with an adult. The teens are then trained as animal welfare apprentices for six weeks at the Human Society and the farm.
The program helps teens:
- Improve their occupational skills
- Stay in school
- Stay out of trouble
Mentors and mentees meet after school each week. The teens learn new skills such as feeding and grooming farm animals, and tending a garden.
These activities teach the youth a variety of skills including how to:
- Control impulse behaviors
- Improve self control
Everyone in the program experiences safe and gentle interactions with animals. Mentors demonstrate appropriate behavior, help the youth with goal-setting and decision-making, and have fun with their mentees. Youth also learn to be empathetic and compassionate by working with the animals.
Mentoring is a great resource for kids in need of care, guidance, and a positive role model. Mentors help their youth navigate issues that come up while growing up, including bullying, the development of healthy relationships, and coping with loss. For more information on mentoring, visit www.ojjdp.gov.