Foster care can be a lonely and confusing experience, especially as youth approach adulthood and prepare to age out of the system. To help ease concerns, Aetna Better Health of West Virginia and KVC Health Systems held the first Helping Everyone/Each Other Reach Out (HERO) foster youth workshop in Charleston, West Virginia.
The two-day powerful workshop focused on equipping and empowering teens with the tools and resources they will need to navigate the transition safely and effectively. It featured sessions on building relationships, identifying social supports for housing, food security and employment, and preparing for life without a guardian. Attendees learned how vulnerability, courage and worthiness can lead to opportunities, bravery and pride in one’s self.
Advancing our social determinants of health efforts and reducing social isolation
Like our recently announced “Destination: Health” platform, the workshop advances our efforts to build healthier communities by positively impacting social determinants of health — those economic and social factors outside a doctor’s office affecting our health.
According to Frank Angotti, Aetna Better Health of West Virginia’s medical director, “The workshop’s goal was to expand the meaningful connections young foster children have in the community, with the hope of reducing the health risks associated with long-term social isolation.”
Scientific research 1,2 shows that social isolation leads to negative health behaviors, negative health conditions and increased health care utilization, including:
A 25-30 percent increased risk of mortality (Holt-Lunstad 2015)1
Loneliness has been equated to the effects of smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad 2010)2
Peer training inspires foster youth
Foster care consultant Dan Martin, a former manager with Child Protection Services in Ontario, Canada, modeled the workshops after the Family Finding strategy associated with the National Institute for Permanent Family Connectedness. The HERO program has grown throughout the US, Canada and other countries with positive results for foster youth and their families.
Peers, made up of former foster youth who’ve previously trained with the HERO program in Canada, led the workshop and inspired the attendees to develop their own personal networks — ones that will provide them with the support they need to have a lifetime of connectivity to the people they care about and those who care about them.
Peer facilitator Alisia Johnson shared with the group, “A year ago you would never have found me in front of a group running a workshop like this. I have really grown in my confidence.”
Both the West Virginia foster youth and visiting peers made an instant connection. Having the opportunity to share common experiences gave these teens a platform to voice their ideas. Together they were able to talk about solutions to many of the challenges found in foster care.