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Stories / Youth

Searching for youth who need us most

"Toughest challenges" isn't always spelled out on paper

The five- and six-year-olds selected for our program have already faced family trauma, heartbreak, and multiple transitions. We commit to stay with each child for 12½ years, even if they change caregivers and schools, face homelessness, and more.

Our intensive services begin with our selection process, when our selection team takes an in-depth approach to understanding the challenges youth face. “What I see in a child is not always limited to what is on paper,” says Michelle Hurd, K-5 program manager. “I might see a child who is hyperactive and can’t focus, but that’s only part of their story. When I dig deeper, I’ll learn that mom is on drugs, and dad is in and out of jail. That’s why observations are important.”

To identify youth for enrollment, Friends partners with public elementary schools and local Department of Social and Health Services offices. In both partnerships, professional mentors gather and evaluate information from a combination of sources – including teachers, principals as well as social workers supporting youth in foster care – to ensure they understand all the risk factors, such as single-parent households, and protective factors, such as home permanence. A team of Friends supervisors and professional mentors directly observe youth in the classroom, and build partnerships with families. The in-class observation process takes four to six weeks, and the entire process of selecting kids takes around six months.

For professional mentors, building a partnership with each youth’s family is the most crucial part of the process. After we observe children, we reach out to their families because we recognize that the relationships we build are not only with the youth, but also with their relatives. When professional mentors meet with a youth’s family, we are inviting them to be in a long-term partnership with us.

Professional mentors are intentional about establishing common ground with parents and framing the conversation around maximizing each youth’s potential, rather than holding parents responsible for challenges beyond their control. Before a meeting, parents might be thinking, “What is wrong with my child or my family?” Instead, professional mentors ask them: “What are your dreams for your child?” or “What would you like your child to work on and learn?” Then, we work together to help youth achieve their goals.

Our selection process is something that sets Friends of the Children apart from other youth organizations. Selecting youth in Seattle who need us the most and guiding them to succeed in school and in life can change the generational cycle of poverty for our families.

“What I see in a child is not always limited to what is on paper...I might see a child who is hyperactive and can’t focus, but that’s only part of their story. When I dig deeper, I’ll learn that mom is on drugs, and dad is in and out of jail. That’s why observations are important. ”