Out of Foster Care — and into What?
“I usually plan things ahead of time, and my first step was to get a job and find a place to live,” she recalled recently. She tried to stay with family members, but one turned her down, Her grandmother was sick and so could not help. “It was also very scary because I didn’t know if my foster care agency was going to help me or not,” said Glover.
Despite all that, Glover now says she is doing well — living on her own and working part time. She dreams of being a journalist some day, saying, “My grandmother always told me to chase my dreams. I love to write. It’s an outlet. If I am going through something, I will just write it down. Then I’m relieved and I’m not stressed. “
While things may have worked out well for Glover, every year hundreds of young adults must adapt to life after foster care– and a number do not succeed. For many the transition presents a huge challenge, and though programs exist to help, they cannot aid all the young people who need it.
On Their Own
There are currently 16,000 children in the foster care system throughout New York City. Of them, about 1,100 leave the system each year, according to In Transition: A Better Future for Youth Leaving Foster Care, a report published in the New School’s Child Welfare Watch.
The majority attempt the transition to independent living on their own. Most lack any type of a strong support network. Not surprisingly, for these young adults, the transition to the “real world” abounds with financial, physical and emotional hardship.
Child Welfare Watch and an internal city review have found that about 15 percent of young adults who age out of foster care end up in the homeless shelter system within two years of their initial discharge.
“In extraordinary numbers, children who age out of the foster care system end up homeless, incarcerated or both in a brief time period,” said Topher Nichols, the communications manager at Children’s Village, a New York-based organization devoted to professional and educational development for troubled youth. “When we really look hard at our own experiences as young adults, how many times we called home because we were a little short on rent or because we made a silly mistake and needed support, we have to recognize that most of us don’t become successful on our own. We have a network of people who support us and take care of us. This is a critical piece missing from the lives of most youth aging out of the city.”
The one-time foster children also do not have the same opportunities as many young adults, especially when it comes to education, employment and housing, which are all connected, said Kim VanBurch, coordinator of youth development at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection. “If they don’t have an education, then they can’t find employment, and if they can’t find employment then they won’t be able to secure housing,” VanBurch said.
Preparing for the Big Change
The foster care agencies — private organizations under contract with the city to place children in appropriate homes and monitor their care — are supposed to prepare the children under their auspices for life after foster care, said Elysia Murphy, the deputy communications director at the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.
“Prior to leaving care, foster care caseworkers work with adolescents to develop plans in preparation for their discharge from foster care. Agencies are expected to set developmentally appropriate expectations that encourage youth to achieve their highest potential in their careers, educational and personal lives and to enable youth to plan responsibly for their own needs,” Murphy said.
Advocates, though, say many agencies don’t start this preparation until a few months before the youth is slated to leave the foster care program. This leave the young adults, some of whom suffer from mental illness and emotional instability, with few resources to turn to when trying to find a place to live and a source of income.
Read the full post at Gotham Gazette.
Christopher Guzman, 22, was one of 200 residents in a new supportive housing program for young adults leaving foster care with no place to go. Above, watch a tour of Guzman’s new home and hear, in his own words, about his life in transition. Kendra Hurley, associate editor for the Center for New York City Affairs and MetroFocus’ Sam Lewis produced this video. Read their full report here.