From the CEO

Dear Friends:

Each year, about 1,000 young people age out of foster care, and all of them face overwhelming challenges at the tender age of 21. They must secure and maintain their own housing, food, employment, education and healthcare.  Yet, many youth who age out are ill-equipped to handle these important responsibilities well, and many fall victim to the pitfalls of living life in poverty without a safety net.  Without adequate support, many of these youth become homeless, suffer from malnutrition, and get by without health services or insurance.

Earlier this winter with help from our friends at the Community Service Society, Children’s Aid co-hosted a policy forum at The New York City Bar Association called “Whatever it Takes” to devise ways to prevent and address youth disconnection.  The full day forum on December 2, 2011, co-sponsored by Child Welfare Organizing Project, Citizens’ Committee for Children, The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, and The Annie E. Casey Foundation, yielded one very important takeaway—youth disconnection is a problem that we can solve.

Our forum provided an opportunity to bring together a diverse group of advocates, providers and youth to discuss our common concerns regarding youth disconnection.  It offered us a chance to share information and discuss how preventive services, evidenced-based service models, community-based supports and long-term, comprehensive action can work in preventing youth disconnection. 

We will continue our work to ensure that youth aging out of foster care, like Julio, have the resources and opportunities they need to become happy and productive adults. This is a large challenge – only 6% of youth who have been in foster care ever graduate college, the single most important indicator of positive lifelong outcomes. However, it is not an insurmountable challenge as the numbers of youth – about 1,000 per year – are fairly low and we know who they are since they have already been involved in the system.

During the policy forum we engaged those who could not attend using social media and have continued the conversation in our Facebook group. Some of the best ideas for tackling this issue were posted in social media and we invite you to join the conversation.

Youth disconnection is a problem that we have the tools and the ability to solve, and together we can make a difference.

Sincerely,

Richard Buery
 

Featured Story

Transitioning from foster care puts a tremendous level of responsibility on young people.  Disconnected youth become solely responsible for food, shelter, health care and employment.  For most 21-year-olds, becoming independent usually comes with family support, but for Julio, celebrating his 21st birthday also carried the burden of transitioning to a life on his own.

While he maintains a close relationship with his foster father and strives to make inroads with biological brothers, mother, and his father, Julio lives alone in a NYC public housing apartment in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, NY, maintaining a job as an administrative assistant and financing his college education.  He cooks his own meals, manages a monthly budget and faces the growing pains of life without the safety net that parents typically provide.  He belongs to a cohort of former foster children facing life without a family support system that many college students take for granted.  

Julio’s journey through foster care began at the age of 14, after experiencing severe physical abuse from his father.  After one episode in which Julio was badly beaten, he had no choice but to find help. Eventually, the New York City Administration for Children’s Services took custody of him and referred his case to The Children’s Aid Society.  Soon after, the agency placed Julio, who is of Dominican descent and who started his life in Washington Heights, in the care of a Polish man, who raised him as well as another young man of Russian descent in his Harlem home.  For Julio, this unlikely crew that had become his family was a blessing in a young life filled with pain and hardship.

In his new family setting, Julio became thankful to find the stability that had eluded him in his younger years. He had the food, shelter, respect, love and support he had always needed and desired. With family support, he was able to graduate from CUNY Preparatory High School in the Bronx.  His foster father encouraged him to keep working and studying.  

“There was no sitting around watching television at home; my foster father had one rule—keep working whether it was studying, volunteering, working a part-time job or whatever,” says Julio.

Julio immersed himself in programs at The Children’s Aid Next Generation Center (NGC), where he participated in its college preparatory program called EXCEL.  He also took part in the Corporate Workplace Program that allowed him to gain valuable work experience and build a professional network that would eventually help him create opportunities for himself.  He also participated in programs through Year Up, another youth serving organization that provides young people with internship experiences.  He enthusiastically spent multiple summers at NGC, helping with neighborhood clean-up projects, organizing clothing and food drives, and participating in a wide array of workshops and peer education activities.  

The support from his foster family and help from his friends at Children’s Aid have helped to fill a void in Julio’s heart.  

“I’ll never forget the help that I received from my first caseworker, Michael Navas, or the encouragement I got from Miguel Montes or Natalia Giordano-who was like a second mother to me.  They have no idea how thankful I am to them and Children’s Aid.  I have a special place in my heart for them,” says Julio.

Throughout the years, he quietly planned his independence.  After six years living with his foster family, Julio matriculated at Borough of Manhattan Community College, working toward an associate degree in the liberal arts.  Children’s Aid awarded Julio a 2008 EXCEL Corporate Workplace Program Scholarship and honored him as the first recipient of its Jean Marie De Veaux Scholarship.  Although he had to take a semester off from school to plan his transition into a new life with a new level of personal responsibility, college remained an important goal.  Julio plans to pursue a bachelor degree in music business management at Five Towns College with hopes of earning a master degree.

Through connections that he cultivated while in the NGC’s corporate workplace program, he was able to secure a position as an administrative assistant with New Yorkers for Children.

“It’s funny because I remember receiving back to school packages from New Yorkers for Children, and now that I work here, I’m putting together the packs.  It’s humbling.  I really wanted a job to help others coming down the same path. It gives me a real sense of fulfillment. I didn’t think I’d be wearing button-up shirts, suits, ties and shoes to work, but here I am,” says Julio.