CM Stevens hosts foster youth for all-day City Hall event

Current and former foster youth shadowed council members for the entire day and sat in on the June 6 , 2024, Stated Meeting.
Current and former foster youth shadowed council members for the entire day and sat in on the June 6 , 2024, Stated Meeting.
Photo Emily Swanson

On June 6, City Council Member Althea Stevens hosted a group of 14 youth currently and formerly in foster care for a day of advocacy and learning at City Hall.

“I was excited to do it,” said Stevens, who serves as chair of the Committee on Children and Youth, which has jurisdiction over the Administration for Children’s Services.

She told the Bronx Times that much of her work involves wrangling various agencies — the Department of Education, Administration for Children’s Services, Department of Youth and Community Development and more — to work holistically and maximize resources. 

Through it all, Stevens said she wants to keep youth perspectives at the forefront.

“Those are voices … often left out,” she said. 

Several other members of the council, including Bronx members Diana Ayala, Kevin Riley and Pierina Sanchez, also participated in the event, which brought together some foster youth with previous advocacy experience — including some who participated in the same event with state lawmakers in Albany and some who had never imagined setting foot in the chambers. 

Rashad Pierce, 16, lives in the Bronx’s Soundview neighborhood and told the Bronx Times he never thought about coming to City Hall, but the experience was eye-opening. 

“I think everybody did a good job voicing their opinions,” Pierce said — but the group also had to consider a hard reality: when it comes to politics and the law, “You can always be a voice, but [your ideas] might not always be used.” 

Chyynnah Clarke, from Queens, had also never visited City Hall before — but she arrived on June 6 with a list of ideas to raise with lawmakers during the rare opportunity. 

Clarke, 24, told the Bronx Times she was in and out of the foster care system from age 15 to 22. Her father died when she was 2 years old and her mother was incarcerated. 

Clarke said her foster mother was overly rigid and repeatedly hospitalized Clarke for having “bipolar flip-outs” — which were really just arguments over chores, she said. 

Clarke and her foster mother were not from the same cultural background, which is why Clarke believes they repeatedly clashed.

“There were times I thought about taking drugs to deal with it,” she said. 

Now, Clarke has her own place and a dog, Ocean, who provides constant emotional support. She has a job working security for Con Edison and, now that she’s at this point, Clarke has ideas for improving the system under which she struggled so much.

One suggestion on Clarke’s list is a prepaid food card for foster youth — which could save some hassles, especially when there are cultural differences within the family, as was Clarke’s case. 

She also recommended mandatory weekly family therapy — because a lot of foster parents “don’t realize that they have problems.”

“I really wanted to get in front of City Hall and say that these things need to be addressed,” said Clarke. 

Fortunately, she found Stevens to be more than receptive. The council member was “willing to listen,” Clarke said. “She’s stepping to the plate and is willing to make the changes.” 

Over the eight times that foster youth have been invited to shadow at City Hall, some of their ideas have actually been implemented, according to Deidra Nesbeth of Fostering Youth Success Alliance, a statewide agency that promotes policies and programs for foster youth. For instance, she said, foster youth are now sent a survey about their experience — an idea generated in one of these sessions. 

‘Speak up’

Nadirra Monrose, 22, has lived all over the Bronx throughout her life. The June 6 City Hall visit was another notch on her belt, as she had previously attended the same event in Albany. 

Monrose said her experience in foster care has been “mixed.” She first entered the system at age three, when her mother died after giving birth to one of her younger siblings and her father, who struggled with drug addiction, could not parent three children alone. 

Within the system, Monrose said she was — and still is — very close with her foster mother and calls her “mom.” But the foster mother’s husband molested her, and suddenly the family was hauled into court hearings and the family was in upheaval. 

Monrose’s foster mother left her husband and was always supportive of Monrose. Throughout the ordeal, she learned some valuable lessons that inform her advocacy work today.

One big takeaway is “what you go through doesn’t define who you are,” said Monrose.

She also aims to break down the stigma and stereotypes surrounding foster youth.

Monrose said many are surprised to learn that she was, and technically still is, in the foster care system. She had to learn maturity and professionalism at a young age — and now she is using some of those skills to benefit others. 

“I wanted to bring awareness of what was really happening in the foster care system,” Monrose said. 

Steven said she heard from some youth that the work of city council seems distant from their everyday lives. Through events like the shadow day, Stevens said she hoped they would see her as a real person: a working mom who wears comfortable sneakers with her suit and a gold nameplate reading “CM Stevens.”

After spending the day hearing directly from foster youth, “I actually feel much more equipped” going forward, Stevens said.

“Those firsthand voices know what’s happening better than anyone else,” said Nesbeth. “Speaking up can be super vulnerable,” she said, but “their voices matter.”

Clarke agreed.

“Speak up, don’t be quiet,” was the day’s main takeaway, she said.

Reach Emily Swanson at or (646) 717-0015. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes