Dozens of human services agencies and foundations in New York City are asking Mayor Bill de Blasio for a $50 million boost to the budget for foster care next year. The funding would go toward full-time life coaches and tutors for current and former foster youth from middle school through age 26, a model that nonprofit foster care agencies say has shown promise for teens in their care.
The hope is to expand the program citywide and help a particularly at-risk group within this population: youth in their late teens and early twenties who will age out or have aged out of the system without having found a permanent home.
“The transition to adulthood is challenging for any young person. For kids who grow up constantly switching from one foster home to the next without anyone to lean on, the journey to adulthood is even harder,” said Councilman Stephen Levin, chair of the Committee on General Welfare, in a release sent out this morning by the new coalition. “New York City is the closest thing these young people have to a guardian and we have a responsibility to offer them the support they deserve. Expanding the ‘coaching model’ not only gives foster youth the chance to succeed, but also curbs homelessness and strengthens our local communities.”
Young adult foster youth receive a patchwork of education, health and housing support right now. But no universal, sustained mentoring and guidance through that world exists for the 600 or 700 youth who age out of the system each year without being adopted or returned to their parents. Of the 646 youth who aged out in 2017, most of whom were 21 years old, only 32 percent had a verifiable source of income, and only 22 percent had a high school degree or equivalent, according to a recent city report.
Now, a group of more than 60 organizations, through a campaign called “Fair Futures,” has enlisted the lobbying firm Capalino+Company* and a public relations firm with close ties to City Hall, BerlinRosen. The group also launched a website this morning at FairFuturesNY.org. The campaign is led by foundations like the New York Community Trust and the Hilton Foundation,* large foster care agencies like Graham Windham and New York Foundling, and other service providers like the Legal Aid Society and the Door.
Sources close to the Fair Futures campaign tell The Chronicle of Social Change they are pitching the idea to city council Speaker Corey Johnson, and key city agencies including the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), which investigates child abuse and neglect allegations, and oversees the dozens of nonprofits that serve at-risk families and find or provide homes for foster youth.
The $50 million ask comes just after the start of city and state budget negotiations in a tight fiscal environment. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent state budget proposal amounts to $600 million in cuts to funding for the city, Mayor de Blasio claims, while the mayor’s proposal for the overall city budget set a goal of $750 million in cuts. The Administration for Children’s Services is set to make its budget hopes public for a late March city council hearing.
Against those headwinds, the Fair Futures campaign’s pitch goes like this: New York City has thousands of current and former foster youth between the ages of 16 and 26. Due to potentially horrific abuse or neglect they may have experienced at home, or the trauma and tumult they experienced being separated from their families, then cycled through foster homes of wide-ranging quality, they may need intensive supports. That could include help with homework, getting internships, staying afloat financially, or managing their emotions. The professional caseworkers that ACS already guarantees for foster youth, though, often end up swamped with bureaucratic tasks — endless court appearances, paperwork, required check-ins — and do not keep working with youth after they age-out of the system, leaving many adrift.
The Fair Futures campaign proposes tutors and coaches that would work with most foster youth starting at an earlier life pivot point, right before high school, when all city youth begin navigating the high-stakes high school selection process. Proposed full-time tutors for middle schoolers would focus on that process and other educational goals. Then, in high school, life coaches would fill a larger role, being available around the clock for around 15 youth, helping them think strategically about housing, education, career paths, their social lives or emotional well-being — things a typical young adult might get from their parents.
“We can no longer accept poor life outcomes for youth in foster care. And, we don’t have to,” said Jess Dannhauser, president of Graham Windham, a child welfare provider in the city, in the statement released this morning. “These type of academic, career and social supports are commonplace for most NYC kids whose families have access to these resources but are still not the norm for most young people leaving foster care in NYC.”
A few of the larger nonprofits in the city are already providing coach-like services to foster youth in their care. The campaign’s proposal mirrors Graham Windham’s “Graham SLAM” program and the New York Foundling’s “Road to Success” program. 67 percent and 89 percent of the participants in the programs, respectively, have obtained a high school degree or equivalency to date.*
*Update, Friday March 1: A source confirms that the the lobbying firm Capalino+Company is working on the Fair Futures campaign.
*Update, Monday, March 4: The Fair Futures campaign clarified that foster youth who participated in Graham Windham and the New York Foundling’s mentoring programs earned a high school degree or equivalency at rates of 67 and 89 percent, respectively, to date–as opposed to over 65 percent on-time graduation rate as previously reported.
*Two of the foundations leading the Fair Futures campaign, the Hilton Foundation and the Redlich Horwitz Foundation, provide funding to The Chronicle of Social Change. They had no involvement with this article, per our editorial independence policy.