I thought I’d share and comment on an article I read recently about this new phenomenon we are seeing now-a-days of children taking longer to leave the nest than in decades past, aka emerging adulthood. What I particularly liked about the article was how the writer appears to do a fairly decent job of addressing this issue in a way that pertains to both the haves and have-nots. In doing so she acknowledges her own privilege of having parents she could always depend and fall back on compared to others, like foster kids, who will never have such luxury.
I also appreciated the author highlighting how emerging adults (or adult-o-lescents, as some call them) are not taking longer to move out because of a desire to do so or laziness. Believe me, as someone who has had to move back in with their parents for a brief time (or even his girlfriend’s parents ) there is no pride or satisfaction to be found in such an ordeal. However, when I compare that to some of the choices and situations many of my clients find themselves facing, I become overwhelmed with humility and shame from knowing that I, nor my clients, did a thing to deserve the drastically different lifestyles we are both currently living.
If you’re reading this blog post you probably know from my website that I am a psychotherapist in private practice. However, what you may not know (unless you’ve read my About Me page) is that I also work with foster care youth all throughout the East San Francisco Bay Area. Hands down, the best and worst part of my job is that I don’t get to provide counseling services to this population of at risk youth in an office setting. Everyday I meet with clients in their homes, schools, or in a variety of other community based locations (i.e. coffee shops, parks, etc.). The biggest cons to this is that sometimes I have to drive upwards of an hour in traffic one way and it really challenges me as a clinician to have to be able to adapt to an environment that is totally out of my control or comfort level. The biggest pro is that it really forces me to step into each person’s world on a completely different level – the nothingness that foster youth are left with at such a young age is experienced on an entirely different level when you’re surrounded by four walls of it.
What really engaged me about the article I referenced at the beginning was that it suggests emerging adults (both the haves and have-nots) should surround themselves with peers in similar life situations throughout the tumultuous phase. For example, the article referenced the research of Dr. Varda Mann-Feder of Concordia University, which indicates how peer support systems can be even more important than parental support in facilitating the transition into independent living. However, as hopeful and optimistic as this may sound, it seems really unfair to compare the effects that family and peer supports can have on emerging adults. Furthermore, the article and study it references fail to take a number of other sociopolitical factors into consideration.
The main reason I decided to share and comment on this article is because it was written right in the middle of peak holiday season when millions of people are planning on spending quality time with family and friends … an experience that foster kids simply don’t get. Furthermore, it was written in a time when major budget cuts are constantly being made to government funded programs (i.e. food stamps, Medicaid, welfare) that foster youth depend on both before and after emancipating from the foster care system. In short, I simply have to disagree with the fact that peer support groups can be more important than family support groups. To be fair, my peers were monumental for me in my emerging adulthood phase and I’m sure that there are many foster care youth who feel the same way. However, I would still argue that the two are incomparable and, furthermore, that there are so many other socioeconomic and political variables to consider in influencing an emerging adults . This, of course, refers to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the implications that his work still has on the human experience today.
When I read this article I had a hard time imagining some of my foster care clients really taking homage in the fact that they should turn to their peers. These are people who were born and raised in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in North America, are battling drug addictions, were left with nothing, have been separated from their siblings, have been bouncing around from one foster or group home to another, are experiencing a slew of mental health issues, and just want more than anything to get their lives on some sort of positive direction before they age out of the system and are yet again left with little more than whatever they managed to accomplish or accumulate while in foster care. Not to mention, their peers are going through the same struggles as they are. In addition to all of this they face the reality that the few things that are helping them get by, meaning the very government funded programs that are constantly undergoing budget cuts, are withering away one dollar at a time. So while I admit there is something to be had in associating with those you can identify with, it’s hard to really benefit from and grow with a peer support group facing just as many never ending crisis as you with so few resources for which to be of help.