Advocates for foster care took to the steps of Borough Hall on Tuesday morning asking the city for funding for youth programs.
“There are a lot of important challenges facing our country and our city that will take decades to resolve, that are too complicated,” said Bill Weisberg, executive director of the Forestdale child welfare agency. “This is not one of them. This is simple. We could solve this today.”
Fair Futures, a coalition of nearly 100 child welfare agencies, nonprofits, foundations, advocates and young adults are hoping the city will be the first to offer one-on-one support to foster youth from middle school to early adulthood, as they noted only 22 percent of the city’s foster youth who age out graduate high school by age 21 and 20 percent will become homeless by 24.
Weisberg said he pays the phone bills for his 20-year-old daughters.
“They still need that helping hand,” he said. “They still need contact.”
The coalition is asking the city to invest $50 million annually in a coaching program that supports foster youth from middle school to age 26 because the kids need a coach to help them navigate life as adults once they are out of the system. The program is entirely privately funded which is why it only reaches 12 percent of foster youth who need it, a coalition spokeswoman said.
The City Council recommended $10 million to scale to $50 million in three years in their budget response but the mayor didn’t heed their advice in his executive budget. Now it’s up to lawmakers to include funding in the final budget.
“We need our city and state leaders to work with us, the nonprofit organizations that provide homes for children in need of foster care, to do more,” said Keith Little, CEO of SCO Family of Services.
Little said SCO helped 96 percent of the 12th graders it serves graduate from high school.
“John F. Kennedy once stated that if you want to see the prospect of our future you must look at our children,” said Jahlika Hamilton of Forestdale, who spent eight years as a foster child. “And I realize being a foster child, we are part of the future.”
Marcus Diego, from The Foundling’s Road to Success program, said he thinks foster care students need to be heard on a daily basis.
“We need to start teaching these youths that you can choose your own story, your own dreams,” said Diego, who will earn his associate degree in the fall.
Nicole Wong, with New York Foundling, was a foster child for eight years and says the educational support needs to be at a higher level. She went through the education system without a tutor in part because she loved to read, but her brother was in program after program.
“They didn’t know how to support a foster youth because they didn’t realize there were traumatic barriers,” she said. “They didn’t realize that moving from home to home every other year causes gaps in education.”
Now the coalition will wait to find out how much money will be in the budget.
“Help us,” Little said. “Resource us to be mentors and coaches that these children and youth need. When given guidance and support, these young people succeed. They soar.”
CORRECTION: This article originally said a coalition spokeswoman said the program is funded with $12 million in private money.