Trystan, an interventionist with The Foundling’s STEPS (Strengthening, Teaching, and Educating People Through Support) foster care prevention program, has a longtime connection to The New York Foundling. As a teen, he spent time with The Foundling while he was in foster care.
Inspired to study social work, he beat the odds of many teens in care when he went on to college, eventually earning his master’s degree from New York University. During his last year of college, he interned with The Foundling’s Therapeutic Foster Care unit. Shortly after graduation, he found his way back to working with The Foundling. Today, he’s using a highly effective evidence-based family therapy model to help families in Staten Island tackle complicated familial challenges to avoid foster care placement.
Trystan answers a few questions about his personal journey and how it has influenced his work today.
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in social work?
It definitely wasn’t my first choice when I started college. In high school it was kind of drilled into my head that college wasn’t for me.
During my junior year of college, I thought about what I would want to wake up every day and enjoy doing. I always enjoyed helping people.
What really sold me is when I had an internship with the Upward Bound (college prep program) working with the teen population. It was just being able to relate to some of the same issues and problems as them. I had a unique mindset compared to people who don’t know what it’s like to be in the foster care system.
Q: Statistics show that foster youth in America face additional challenges when it comes to graduating high school and pursuing a college degree. What was the toughest part of being a youth in foster care and navigating education for you, and what do you wish more educators understood about this population?
Education, for me at least, was the easy part. You do a paper and follow the directions and get a good grade. Life doesn’t follow that type of model. I think the hardest part for me was making the time for those studies. School systems plan for the youth’s future, but fail to acknowledge that the youth is focused on surviving the now. In retrospect, what sounds better? Going to a class to acquire a job 3 to 4 years down the line, or skipping that class to pick up a shift to put food on the table for yourself or any siblings you may have? It’s hard to plan for a successful future when the present is falling apart. I think educators need to understand that youth aren’t worried about 3 to 5 years down the line. They are focused on today and tomorrow to even be alive in 3 to 5 years.
This causes a multi-dimensional problem, but the educators that stuck with me were the ones that let me feel like I was in control of my life. They let me tell them what I wanted to do and found resources based off that. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter of the choice was a good or bad one. They supported my passions and took a step back for me to learn and make my own mistakes.
Q: How do you feel your personal experiences being a youth in care have influenced the way you work with families in your career today?
Since I’m not working directly working with teens in care (currently), it doesn’t always come up. But I do talk with parents who might be expressing and sharing certain emotions with the family, and without saying why, I can pick up on that emotion easier than others.
Q: What is most rewarding part of the work you do with The Foundling?
It’s definitely most rewarding when I work with a family and I’ve been addressing a very difficult case, and I leave the session feeling like a change was made. There’s less yelling, less negativity. Even when you see you’re actually making a difference to the family — maybe in the smallest of aspects — and you slowly see progress through the program, and it gets better and better. It’s rewarding when there are difficulties and (I think), “How do I address that using different techniques with different families?”
In addition to working with The Foundling as an interventionist, Trystan is a published poet. He aspires to be an advocate for teens in the foster care system, and he volunteers his time with the Foster Youth Heroes program at City University of New York.