More than 4,000 youth are in the New York City foster care system, and as many as 700 age out each year without any adult to turn to for guidance.
In New York, only 21% of these young people have a high school degree or equivalency when they age out of foster care at 21 years-old, 1 in 5 enter a homeless shelter within three years of aging out and only 3% will obtain a college degree.
Fair Futures, which is a coalition of child welfare agencies, nonprofits, foundations, advocates and young adults, helps ensure these foster kids stay on the right track. In 2019, the Fair Futures model was launched citywide at all 26 foster care agencies, and since then, hired more than 450 staff and provided support to nearly 3,000 young people in foster care ages 11 to 21 through Fair Futures coaches, tutors and specialists.
Though the program, nearly 99% of young people actively engaged with their coach by the end of the first year, and 85% of young people coached in the second year achieved an average of three academic, career and/or independent living goals/outcomes. All of this progress was achieved during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Knowing the impact it has had on foster youth, the coalition held a virtual rally on Jan. 25 to call on the city to allocate $35 million in the 2023 budget and extend funding for the program until 2026. The subsidy would help Fair Futures expand its reach and help young adults up to the age of 26.
“Mayor (Eric) Adams has supported the Fair Futures model since its inception, and believes it is an important upstream approach to helping people aging out of foster care,” said Jonah Allon, a spokesman for the mayor. “He also mentioned the program when he recently unveiled his ‘Blueprint to End Gun Violence’ as an example of a strategy to prevent the crisis of gun violence long-term. The administration will continue to engage with Fair Futures and other stakeholders on how to best support the success of the program going forward.”
An example highlighting the value of the Fair Futures program is the relationship between Bronx resident Deborah Kabore, a foster youth, and Amelia Ramirez, a coach at Sheltering Arms, a nonprofit that helps foster kids. Ramirez told the Bronx Times that the goal of the nonprofit is to guide young adults and assist them with whatever they need.
Each coach has a maximum of 15 youths they can be assigned to. Ramirez said since every child comes from a different background, some are more open to help, while others take a while to adjust.
“There’s really no limit to how we can help our kids,” she said.
Kabore, 20, and Ramirez met two years ago, and Ramirez has helped her get a state ID, connected her with tutors and supported her through emotional challenges and depression onset by the pandemic. During the past few years, she has seen Kabore grow as a person and blossom into a strong young woman.
“I see myself having a lifelong relationship with her,” Ramirez said.
Kabore, of Gun Hill, was struggling with depression and didn’t envision herself graduating high school, let alone attending college. But then Ramirez entered her life, and everything changed. Kabore currently attends Lehman College for nursing, has a part-time job and an internship with the foster care agency Sheltering Arms.
Ramirez helped her with college applications, picking her class schedule, visited her during the pandemic, did her make up on her birthday, assisted her with finding an internship and most importantly, made Kabore feel good about herself.
“Amelia is like my coach who is there to guide me,” Kabore said. “If she wasn’t there I wouldn’t be in college.”
Kabore is about to move into the dorms and is in the process of getting her learner’s permit. She credits her success in life to her relationship with Ramirez.
“If I didn’t have the program, I don’t think I would have a lot of things in my life,” Kabore said. “It helped me get my life together. I think Fair Futures is very important and would help other young people like me.”
Reach Jason Cohen at [email protected] or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.