Caroline Jones: Helping foster care children succeed in life
Caroline Jones believes every child and teen has the right to a bright future.
In 2008, the Newark resident founded the Kind to Kids Foundation. Its purpose is to offer programs and services that teach kindness, self-worth, job readiness, budgeting, decision-making, goal setting, study skills, substance abuse and violence prevention.
Today, Kind to Kids is the leading nonprofit agency in Delaware that works directly with foster children. It has grown from serving children transitioning into foster care to helping impoverished and at-risk youth. It has served 14,000 children and youths from infants to those 21 years of age.
Yusef Russell, 22, who in 2017 moved from foster care to his own apartment, says Kind to Kids’ life skills program taught him that he had to learn how to manage money. Before attending the program, Russell had one goal in mind—to be on his own. But he was unclear as to what that really entailed.
“The classes gave me a different perspective,” he says. “They helped me answer the question, what is important for me to focus on—(paying) bills.” That focus helped him secure a full-time job.
In January,Kind to Kids introduced the Kind to You manual and Kind to You app. The manual, a guide for teens leaving foster care, discusses healthy relationships, buying a car, eating healthy, renting, credit cards debt, stress management and suicide prevention.
Formalized with the help of Delaware’s Division of Family Services (DFS), the manual incorporates life skills that Kind to Kids teaches.
Joseph Smack, DFS community relations coordinator, says the manual could benefit any young adult. “It’s assumed kids with parents will learn these skills from their parents, but that is not necessarily true,” he says. “Some college students don’t know how to write a check or open a bank account.”
The manual is a reference forKind to Kids’ UGrad program. Launched last month, UGrad was created to help increase the rate of high school graduates in the foster care system.
Only 30 percent of foster care youth in Delaware graduate from high school, according to the federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System. There are 750 children in Delaware’s foster care system, while some 60,000 children in the state live in poverty.
“UGrad is an innovative program. There’s nothing quite like it in the Tri-State area,” says Jones. Students meet regularly with instructors to quickly address issues such as bullying or classroom challenges—before they get out of hand.
Students also receive guidance in achieving goals, and they’re rewarded with gift cards or school supplies for their hard work. Students meet with their instructors at their schools or foster homes in New Castle and Kent counties.
Kind to Kids’ partners include the Division of Youth Rehabilitation, Red Clay School District and the Latin American Community Center. An annual budget of $530,000 is funded by individuals, government, foundations and corporations.
Jones became aware of the hardships of neglected and abused children when she started working as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate in 2008. During that time, she shared with her then teenage son, Chris, and daughter, Catherine, the difficulties these children face. While at a sporting event, Chris and Catherine noticed the many empty seats in the stadium. They had the idea of finding a way to donate seats at cultural and sporting venues to children in foster care. “That’s how Kind to Kids got started,” Jones says. In 2011 the foundation became a non-profit.
Both Chris and Catherine help run Kind to Kids, and Jones’ husband, Mark, is on the Board of Directors.
For more information, go to: kindtokids.org, Facebook, firstname.lastname@example.org.