March 24, 2020

Invest in Hope: Build Strength in Our Community

A message from our CEO

By Terri Sorensen, CEO, Friends of the Children

We hope you and your loved ones are healthy and safe in these uncertain times. As the situation with COVID-19 evolves and we learn more, Friends of the Children remains focused on how to best support our youth and families – those who are most impacted by this crisis. We know that now, more than ever, strong relationships built on love will make all the difference.

Inspired by the way that our communities are coming together, I am reaching out today to share more about the challenges faced by the youth and families enrolled in our program. We also know you are looking for ways to help and we are grateful.

Across the Friends of the Children network, our incredible Friends and staff are showing our youth and families what "no matter what" means:

- We are stronger together: We've established an incident response team, led by our National executive leaders, who are creating space for our innovative chapter leaders across the country to share best thinking, resources and action plans. Initial work has included developing a stepped service level plan and guidelines for working remotely with our youth – something our Friends have never done before.

- Immediate needs: We are conducting a needs assessment to fully understand the specific, high-priority needs of our youth and families. Right now, food and basic supplies are the priority. Families are also expressing concerns about income loss and rental payments. We are also hearing concerns from families about their children's ability to continue to learn. To mitigate learning loss, we are determining what technological gaps exist and getting creative when necessary to make sure that youth have opportunities to continue reading and advancing their academic skills.

- Connection and Belonging for Youth in Care: As each of us works through the stress of our current situation in different ways, we at Friends are particularly mindful of how COVID-19 is impacting our youth who are in foster care. As the child welfare system and courts that support it are having to limit access to services – slowing cases down and reducing visits with parents and siblings, we are ramping up our service to these incredible youth. In addition to actively supporting their foster and kinship caregivers, we are taking every opportunity to ensure that youth in care feel connected – not just to us, but to all of the people in their lives that care about them.

- Supporting our Friends: As we reimagine how we deliver services to children and families, we are reminded of the responsibility placed on our mentors. Often, they are the only person a youth or caregiver goes to in a crisis. Our teams are leveraging research and thinking creatively about how best to keep our Friends healthy, safe and supported as they continue their vital work.

There is a lot we don't know about the future, but one thing we are sure of: our Friends are needed now more than ever. Friends – consistent, highly-trained adults who build relationships on love – are continuing to support our children and families through these traumatic times, no matter what. As our families and youth are being challenged and taxed now more than ever, any amount you can give makes an immediate difference as we look to meet basic needs both physically and relationally for our youth and their families.

We are filled with gratitude for you and the incredible perseverance of our communities. I believe we can find strength in each another. Thank you so much for your support.

We are thinking of you, and we welcome the opportunity to hear from you.

Our mentors are committed to continue working with youth during this time through technology and continue to work toward their goals. Above is an example from our Friends of the Children–Seattle chapter. Daniel*, one of their teen youth, was scheduled to take his SAT test. Seattle's executive director, Steve Lewis used FaceTime and sent pictures of math equations back and forth to help Daniel study. They worked through a whole practice test online together to get ready for the test happening the next day. COVID-19 won't stop our youth's school success and their grit and perseverance.

At our Friends of the Children–Austin chapter, Uriel, a Friend, uses FaceTime with his youth and said, "Despite not being able to do outings with our youth, it has ben super cool to have caregivers be open to the idea for me to be in contact with youth via phone call/video calls. So far, I've been able to have conversations with youth about the COVID-19, how this experience is making them feel and how to cope with those feelings and the precautions they can take to stay safe. With all of the resources that the team gathered up, it has made it easy for me to engage in different activities with the youth: learning about spiders, reading, drawing, or just having a chat with youth and caregivers."

We look forward to sharing more of these stories of how our Friends are supporting our youth and families, while practicing social distancing.