Advocates rallied virtually with elected officials last Thursday asking Mayor Bill de Blasio to include funding every year for Fair Futures, a citywide model launched in December 2019 that allowed foster care agencies to hire 300 coaches, tutors and specialists to help 3,000 young people.
According to the coalition, over 4,000 middle and high school-aged youth are in the city’s foster care system, but between 600 and 700 age out of the system every year without an adult they can rely on.
The foster care agencies are advocating for baseline funding to expand the model to include all foster care youth up to 26 years old.
“We cannot stop now,” said Jess Dannhauser, president and CEO of Graham Windham, New York City’s first private orphanage that was opened in 1806 by philanthropists including Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. “No young people should lose the help that comes with Fair Futures.
“It’s our young people calling for what they want in their lives. They are our city’s future, and we are lucky for that,” he added. “As adults, all we have to do is listen to them.”
Jahiem Williams, 19, has been in foster care for almost nine years. He said his Fair Futures coaches helped him get into college and keep him on track, especially through his first year.
“Having that extra help is so important,” he said.
Alonzo Leon-Forde, 21, noted that being in the foster care system made him closed off from others. But his coach helped him figure out that he wanted to go to college, and the steps to do so.
“His persistence has been a huge support for me,” Leon-Forde said.
At the virtual rally, several Fair Futures coaches spoke about the work they have been able to do due to Fair Futures funding.
Anthony Robinson, a youth coach at JCCA, said he helped his youth secure housing and receive devices for virtual learning. He also organized game nights and devised peer support groups.
“Fair Futures has grown our department to new levels,” he said.
Amelia Ramirez, a coach at Sheltering Arms, said she helped her youth transition to remote learning and get the tools they need. She also offered emotional and mental support, went on socially distanced walks with them, helped them make doctor’s appointments and even supported them through interviews.
“Last year was important for them to have individualized support,” she said. “Youth in foster care should have someone they can rely on. That’s what coaches are for.”
Among the elected officials supporting the Fair Futures coalition were Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and several City Council members, who pointed out that $20 million is only a tiny fraction of the proposed $92 billion budget.
Councilman Robert Cornegy noted that lawmakers successfully fought against a $10 million cut in funding to the initiative last year. He said he hopes to invest even more funding into the model this year.
“Adults have a moral responsibility to make sure our young people succeed,” he said. “We must not neglect our collective duties.”
“We are going to be defined by how we treat the people who are most vulnerable, and the people who have the most needs,” added Councilman Antonio Reynoso. “Fair Futures speaks to that.”
Councilman Stephen Levin recalled that when he was 20, he had just finished his third semester of college. He said he was going through a rough time, and thought about leaving school. He went home that Christmas break and had a good chat with his father.
“He really put the screws in me and challenged me with what I was going to do with my life, where I was going to go,” Levin said. “That was my backstop.”
The councilman said at 18 or 19 years old, young people often don’t see things from a “pulled-out perspective,” which can be provided by a trusted adult figure.
“Youth in foster care don’t always have that, they don’t have somebody who they know they can go to, who can tell them what’s what, who can support them unconditionally and challenge them,” he added. “That’s what Fair Futures does, it provides a firm but loving, guiding hand through these difficult years.”
Keith Little, president and CEO of SCO Family of Services, noted that his organization serves 484 young people from middle school through 26 years old. All of their middle school students are served by Fair Futures specialists, with the goal of preparing them for successful adulthood and independence.
“We know from experience that coaches and mentors help young people turn ideas into action,” he said. “They help them unlock their limitless possibilities, they help change their reality for the better.
“These young people not only succeed, they soar,” he added. “We can’t let these young people down.”