AU student volunteers as mentor for 13-year-old girl in foster care

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23-year-old Trine Jensen is studying economics at AU. For the past three years, she’s been a mentor, tutor and emotional anchor for 13-year-old Sofie, who’s in foster care.

2018.09.26 | Marie Groth Andersen

Economics student Trine Jensen is 13-year-old Sofie’s mentor. Sofie lives with a foster family. Trine and Sofie meet every other week, and Trine helps Sofie with her homework and her academic development in general. The mentor job is unpaid. “I think it’s fine that’s there’s no money involved in the relationship I have with Sofie,” says Trine. Photos: Ida Marie Jensen

Mentor with Lær for Livet

  • The organisation Lær for Livet needs mentors all over the country
  • To become a mentor, you must be 18 years of age. Most mentors are between 25 and 75. You must be able to commit to a period of minimum 18 months, preferably more. The child becomes a part of the mentor programme for six years
  • The children are between the ages of 9 and 14 when they start the programme. All of the children are either in foster homes, placed in an institution or with relatives
  • The mentor role is voluntary.
  • Read more about the Lær for Livet mentor programme (in Danish)

When Trine Jensen moved to Aarhus three years ago to study economics at AU, suddenly she found herself with a lot of free time on her hands. She had previously spent up to a couple of hours each day commuting between her parents’ home in Solbjerg and her upper secondary school. So in addition to her student jobs, first as a factor worker and then as a student instructor at the Department of Economics, she decided she wanted to do volunteer work. Preferably working with people.

“I don’t have the financial resources to sponsor a child in Africa, but I have time to give, and it’s not certain I’ll be in the same position in ten years,” she explains.

Through the website frivillig.dk, which connects people with volunteering opportunities, Trine learned about Lær for Livet (‘learn for life’), which is a national educational support programme for children in out-of-home, whose academic achievement is generally lower than that of their peers. The organisation runs a mentor programme which connects volunteer mentors which children who are placed in care, either in a foster home or an institution. Mentors help these children with their homework and support them academically and socially. As a mentor, you commit to a relationship of least 18 months, preferably longer, in order to provide the child with a stable influence.

“I thought, I’ll be studying at AU for the next five years in any case. So I could commit to the programme for that period,” explains Trine.

A child who's been through a lot

Trine has been mentoring Sofie, who was nine when they met and is now 13, for the past three years.

“Sofie was placed with a foster family, and since I first got to know her, she’s been relocated twice. She’s also lived at a children’s home for six months.”

Trine decided that she didn’t want to know why Sofie was placed in foster care. And while Sofie may have some psychological or developmental issues, Trine has made it clear that she doesn’t want to know her diagnosis.

“I don’t want to treat her differently. She’s who she is, and that’s our point of departure. Along the way, I’ve gotten some insight into her background, that’s clear, but it’s based on what Sofie herself wanted to tell me.”

First a Nutella on rye, then homework

Trine picks Sofie up from school once every other week, and they spend four hours together. Over the years, they’ve established a routine.

“We always begin by eating a piece of Danish ryebread with Nutella and drinking a glass of chocolate milk. And then we talk for a bit about all kinds of things. Then we read and practice understanding what the text says. Then we do something else, and what we’ll do varies a lot. Sofie would like to have a horse, so we’ve worked on calculating how much it costs to have a horse, and how much money you have to save to be able to afford a horse,” Trine says.

Curiosity is what you need to suceed

Trine likes to focus on topics that already interest Sofie.

“And I also try to get to her be curious. Because that’s what you need to succeed. If it’s something you’re curious about learning more about, you’ll read the text for sure.”

They don’t have a curriculum they need to get through. But they spend a lot of time on Danish and maths.

“And right now, we’re focussing on English, and we listen to English music and watch English videos on YouTube.”

They always end their afternoons by making dinner, which they eat together. Aside from being a pleasant way to end the day, cooking also has a purpose, Trine explains:

“After all, she needs to learn to take care of herself, so it’s good to learn how to cook. And we often follow a recipe where’s there’s some text she has to read and some measurements she has to convert, if the recipe is for four people.”

Prepared for her role

In preparation for her role as mentor, Trine participated in a weekend course. And before Trine met Sofie for the first time, she got a letter from her in which Sofie told her a little about herself and what she liked to do. Trine was also given information about Sofie’s academic level.

Twice a year, the mentors are given feedback and input, and they can call Lær for Livet at any time if they have an acute need for advice and guidance.

A break from her studies

Sofie is definitely not the only one who gets something out of their days together.

“I’m always in a good mood after a day with Sofie. It gives me a break when I’ve had enough university. It’s four hours I can spend on something other than my studies with a good conscience,” says Trine, who would definitely recommend becoming a mentor to other students.

“But you have to consider whether you can make the commitment. Because these are vulnerable children who’ve been let down. They need a stable adult who can follow them over a longer period.”

But isn’t that a pretty tough role to take on at such a young age?

“It’s a clearly defined role, and it’s very clear what your responsibility is – and what it is not. You’re given a lot of help and support along the way. And before you’re approved as a mentor, you have to go through several interviews with Lær for Livet so they can assess whether you’re a suitable candidate.”  

Working as a mentor has also taught Trine things about herself.

“I actually thought that I was a really hardcore career person. But I need a balance and the human aspect. So I’ve also elected to tone my education a little in that direction at the Master’s level,” explains Trine, who could imagine herself working for a special interest organisation or doing statistical analyses of society’s marginalised groups for a ministry or a municipality.

‘Sofie’ is a pseudonym. Her name was changed to protect her privacy. Her identity is known to the editors.

Mentor with Lær for Livet

  • The organisation Lær for Livet needs mentors all over the country.
  • To become a mentor, you must be 18 years of age. Most mentors are between 25 and 75. You must be able to commit to a period of minimum 18 months, preferably more. The child becomes a part of the mentor programme for six years.
  • The children are between the ages of 9 and 14 when they start the programme. All of the children are either in foster homes, placed in an institution or with relatives.
  • The mentor role is voluntary.
  • Read more about the Lær for Livet mentor programme (in Danish)
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