Over the past year, Fair Futures coalition has connected 3,000 New York City foster youth with a trained mentor to give them an invaluable support system as they navigate their teenage years.
The program, launched at the start of 2020, connects over 200 child welfare agencies, foundations, advocates and former foster youth with all 26 foster care agencies in the city to provide one-on-one mentors for foster youth aged 11-21 – 85% of whom are Black or Latinx.
On Thursday, members of the Fair Futures coalition and local leaders, including Borough President Eric Adams, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Councilmembers Robert Cornegy and Antonio Reynoso, rallied together calling for Mayor Bill de Blasio to provide $20 million in baseline funding in next year’s executive budget so the program could continue.
Former foster youth and Fair Futures Youth Advocacy Board Coordinator Ericka Francois said if the funding was not baselined, the city could leave thousands of young people “high and dry without a key pillar of support during the pandemic.”
“That’s not just immoral, but dangerous too,” she said. “This is a critical moment for young people in care and they have never needed their coaches more now. We cannot let them down”
Foster youth Jaheim Williams, 19, told those at the rally he had been in foster care for almost nine years and it had been a roller coaster ride and really hard work.
“A lot of kids don’t have family, money or the ability to have that extra help, there are a lot of kids that want to go to school but have a hard time doing it. Having that extra help and support is really important and is why Fair Futures is so important.”
He said his mentors through the program had helped him get into college, play basketball and stay on track. “Having these people in my corner giving me a lot of help and keeping me on track has been just what I need.”
Over 4,000 middle- and high-school-aged children and youth are in the New York City foster care system, and approximately 600-700 age out each year at age 21 without any adult to turn to for guidance. Foster youth who age out are disproportionately likely to become homeless, involved in the justice system or to face unexpected pregnancy, Fair Futures said in a statement.
The Fair Futures program had increased high school completion rates amongst foster youth from 21% to 94%, the agency said.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said it was imperative that the city invest in preventive measures to keep the city safe, rather than reactive. “We can’t go back to normal, because normal didn’t work. We have to be better than normal,” Williams said. He said the coaches at Fair Futures clearly provided a lifeline for youth and the city needed to ensure it had the money it needed to continue.
“If the only silver lining of this pandemic could be that we have the opportunity to lay the groundwork to remove systems that didn’t work and build upon the ones that did but weren’t funded properly, that’s the game plan and I’m on it.”
Councilmember Robert Cornegy, Jr. said the city had to realize its duty to care for the next generation by investing in the success and dreams of young people.
“When our young people fail to succeed we recognize it is really the responsibility of the wider community,” he said, adding Fair Futures “grows a sense of compassion and care that lifts us all up.”
“I am a foster kid graduated into the City Council it is always my pleasure to say that this is what foster care looks like.”
Borough President Eric Adams said in the year since its launch the program had already proven to be a game-changer.
“It has helped raise graduation rates among foster youth significantly, prepare them for life outside the foster care system, and instilled them with confidence to pursue their dreams,” he said.
“Most importantly, it has shown these young people that they matter.”