A foundation-funded advocacy push to provide full-time life coaches to New York City foster youth has secured an initial investment in next year’s budget, City Hall sources have confirmed to The Chronicle of Social Change.
Since winter, the Fair Futures campaign has called for adding $50 million to the 2020 budget for new personnel to improve support for all foster youth, especially those who have or soon will age out of the system. The nearly $93 billion budget agreement announced last week includes $10 million to partially rollout the new program, in line with an April proposal from City Council in response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first budget pitch.
It was included in the budget for the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), which oversees the city’s dozens of foster care and family support nonprofits.
“The many young people and organizations that make up the Fair Futures Coalition are thrilled,” said Jess Dannhauser, President and CEO of the human services nonprofit Graham Windham, in an email to the Chronicle on behalf of the Fair Futures campaign. “We are very grateful to the City Council for its tireless advocacy and to the de Blasio Administration for including this investment in the budget. New York City is leading the way nationally. It is also sending a clear message to young people in or transitioning from foster care that the City believes in them and their futures.”
Fair Futures advocates pitched a model similar to programs developed by Graham Windham and New York Foundling. Trained, salaried coaches would work with foster youth from middle school through age 26, providing guidance on education, housing, and career prep, and emotional and social support. Caseworkers already assigned to all foster youth are responsible for extensive record keeping and compliance checks; life coaches would focus more on personal enrichment for young people who are often overcoming traumatic childhoods, limited resources, and housing instability.
Observers believe New York will be first in the nation making this kind of public investment in long-term mentoring for foster youth. Independent programs nationwide offer intensive, paid, long-term mentoring for at-risk youth, and many foster care systems have recently increased other kinds of programming for their transition-age youth. The Fair Futures plan approval represents a new kind of commitment to abused and neglected youth who become the legal responsibility of the state.
The campaign was organized by nonprofit executives and child welfare advocates, and led by Katie Napolitano, formerly of the Tiger Foundation. The lobbying firm Capalino+Company, and a public relations firm with close ties to City Hall, BerlinRosen, were also enlisted. Funders included the New York Community Trust, the Hilton Foundation and Redlich Horwitz.* The chair of the City Council committee that oversees ACS, Stephen Levin (D), supported the effort.
The campaign was also fueled by the voices of dozens current and former foster youth. They rallied on the steps of City Hall and in every borough, wrote letters to the elected officials, and spoke to reporters.
*The Hilton Foundation and the Redlich Horwitz Foundation provide funding to The Chronicle of Social Change’s parent organization, Fostering Media Connections. They had no involvement with this article, per our editorial independence policy.