Lifeguide is a program hosted by the Cape Fear Volunteer Center tasked with connecting adult mentors with teens and young adults aged 16-21. These teens and young adults come from long term foster care under the New Hanover County DSS. Lifeguide differs greatly from the Big Buddy program as its primary goal is to help those who have experienced long term foster care transition into young adulthood as they age out of the foster care system.
Foster care is usually meant to be temporary, with the majority of foster kids spending roughly two years in foster care, usually in multiple homes. Despite this, more than 20 percent of foster care kids experienced 10 or more placements before aging out. Moving from home to home can significantly harm a person’s psychological and social growth as it takes away any sense of permanence or stability in developing kids. As a result of these continued movements, children in foster care grow up with few, if any, adults in their life that can give them strong, consistent guidance.
Studies show that the long term effects of foster care often leave young adults less capable of adjusting to the new world of responsibilities and stressors that adulthood independence brings. Those studies show that 22 percent of adults who went through the foster care system have been homeless at one point in their adult lives, compared to 2% of the general population that experiences homelessness at some point in adulthood. This is often attributed to them simply being "kicked out" once the funds given to foster households to care for them stop coming after the ward turns 18. Those who have been through the foster care system are less likely to attempt a post secondary education than those in the general population as well. They are also more likely to not have health insurance coverage at approximately 33%, one third of foster care alumni. Having a revolving door of adult care takers in their lives can leave many former wards of foster care with little in the way of true guidance or support. This can leave many of them without someone who can mentor them through the process of becoming a fully functional adult.
The effects of long term foster care also have significant mental health implications for former wards. Foster care alumni are more likely to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than the general population at a rate of 25 percent, compared with 4.5%. They are more likely to suffer from Depression at 24.3 percent, as well as anxiety at a whopping 43 percent and it’s no wonder why. Moving from home to home, getting used to one family just before they are shipped off into another household is a tremendous psychological strain for a child. Many of these former wards turn to alcohol and substance abuse to cope with the aforementioned mental health issues at a rate of 11.1 percent compared with 2.5% of the general population. While there are certainly many foster care alumni who go on to live perfectly well adjusted lives in adulthood, others do not fair so well.
Lifeguide’s mission is to pair wards in the process of aging out of the foster care system with a consistent, caring adult mentor to help them navigate their journey into adulthood. The foster care alumni who sign up for Lifeguide have often gone much of their lives without a dependable mentor figure who can help them avoid the aforementioned problems. A Lifeguide mentor not only provides moral support, they also help guide mentees through the typical processes of early adulthood. Lifeguide mentors also assist in helping mentees with the college application process and entrance into trade programs. They also help mentees find employment or lease their first apartments, giving them the tools to lead a more successful life as adults. Lifeguide mentors help give those without a stable base of guidance and support the foundation from which they can build upwards for a lifetime.