Youth Deserve So Much More: Coalition Rallies for a Better Foster Care System

Anna Sanchez, Youth Advocate

Anna Sanchez, Youth Advocate

Ivan Mendez, Youth Advocate

Ivan Mendez, Youth Advocate

CITY HALL―Today, Council Members were joined by a coalition of youth, advocates, and agencies, united in support of legislation to strengthen New York City’s foster care system for nearly 10,000 children and youth. 
 
“There is a strong urgency in this process,” said youth advocate Anna Sanchez. “I spend my time advocating for youth currently in care who don’t understand something that I never had the chance to experience at their age: a chance to have a family. I am someone who knows what it’s like to be in the system and I passionately believe that youth in care deserve to have so much more. I fully agree with all of the bills being considered because they will contribute to a more positive outcome for youth in care.”
 
“As a youth who stems from the foster care system and as an advocate for youth, I can say with the utmost confidence that youth in care do not know that family is their right,” said youth advocate Ivan Mendez.  “It is imperative that we pass these bills in order to help establish stability for youth currently in care.”
 
The proposed legislation would establish new feedback systems and guarantee the necessary data to push for systemic reforms at the state level and ultimately, comprehensive services here in New York City:

  • Create a taskforce to recommend improvements to our foster care system that will include experts such as child advocates and foster youth (Intro 1192);
  • Implement a survey for children and youth in care regarding experiences with foster parents (Intro 1199);
  • Call on the New York State legislature to improve a housing subsidy used by former foster youth in order to reduce their risk of homelessness as they age out of care (Res 1073);
  • Ensure we have the necessary data to push for systemic reforms, especially regarding educational continuity; incidences of abuse and neglect; and barriers to permanent placement (Intro 1190Intro 1196;Intro 1191);
  • Expand reporting on foster care regarding graduation success; attainment of government-issued identification; and the number of youth who have aged out of care and who enter a homeless shelter or receive financial assistance such as SNAP benefits (Intro 1205Intro 1187Intro 1197).

Council Members developed many of the bills following the Council’s Foster Youth Shadow Day in November. During the event and in follow-up meetings, youth shared ideas about improving foster care in New York City, informed by their own experiences of the system.

“Children and youth in the City’s care are some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers and it our collective responsibility to ensure that each of them has a safe, loving home and access to comprehensive services,” said Council Member Levin, Chair of the Committee on General Welfare. “These bills are especially important because many of them are a direct response to the firsthand experiences of youth in care. I look forward to continuing to work with these young people, as well as advocates, agencies, and my City Council colleagues to positively impact the foster care system.”

“The very system that is meant to protect our children is failing them,” saidPublic Advocate Letitia James. “This package of bills is an important first step to overhaul our City’s broken system and provide the protections that our children need and deserve. I want to thank Council Members Ferreras-Copeland and Levin for their partnership on this issue. We must continue to focus on our children, protect them from harm, and ensure that we transform our system to one that protects and cares for our most vulnerable children.”
 
“Our foster care youth are some of the most vulnerable populations in our city and after participating in Foster Youth Shadow Day last year, it became clear that we should be doing a lot more as a city to protect them,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “This package of bills is focused on finding the holes in foster care and improving the lives of foster youth, which will ensure that they are no longer left behind in New York City. I'd like to thank Council Member Levin and all my colleagues for working together to secure a better future for children in the foster care system.”

While the number of children in foster care has decreased significantly in the past year, it stands that children in New York City’s system spend almost twice the amount of time in care than children in the rest of the country – 3.2 years versus 1.7 years. There is still much more to be done so that the nearly 10,000 New York City children and youth in care can receive vital services and return to their families or be adopted by lifetime families. The bills considered today underscore areas where data is needed to improve service delivery, such as education and housing.
 
 “All children, teenagers, and young adults deserve to have access to supportive resources, and it is crucial that New York City’s foster care system is improved so that it adequately addresses the needs of our young people in foster care,” said Council Member Mathieu Eugene, Chairman of the Youth Services Committee.
“This is a package of common-sense legislation that aims to ensure we are supporting our most important asset – our young people,” saidCouncilmember Rafael Salamanca, Jr.
 
“Every youth, irrespective of their socioeconomic status or background, deserves an equal opportunity to succeed as scholars and professionals. With nearly 10,000 children and youth under the care of the Administration for Children’s Services, we must ensure that the proper resources are in place to support their continued growth and development within and beyond the foster care system,” said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo.  “Through the unwavering commitment and dedication of our city’s advocates, I am proud to introduce legislation in June that will strengthen one of my first bills that was enacted in 2014 by disaggregating the number of foster care youth in high school and on track to graduate in four years by age.”

 “Often times, the most vulnerable of our citizens are the ones who suffer the most, due to being lost within the maze of bureaucracy. I am proud to support this package of legislative initiatives that aims to cultivate a more comprehensive approach to addressing the needs of at-risk children in our city's foster care system. These bills – collectively – seek to encourage a more functional system by mandating more accountability, more transparency, and more coordination between the myriad agencies that are on the front lines of servicing our foster children,” said Council Member Annabel Palma. 

It is also essential to reduce the number of youth who age out of foster care without permanent family. In 2015, over 650 young people aged out of foster care, starting adulthood without family or ACS support. The majority of young people, including those that did not grow up in the foster care system, are nowhere near ready to be fully financially independent at 21 – and yet that is exactly what we expect of young people who age out of the foster care system.
 
“I am happy to support these bills, which will provide much needed information about foster care and the young people in the system,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. “We must work together so that all youth receive the support they need to be successful, and these bills will provide us with the data necessary to make the necessary reforms. I also thank Public Advocate James and Council Member Levin for their leadership on this legislation.”
 
“This joint effort to strengthen NYC's foster care system will improve the lives of thousands of young New Yorkers,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm. “My legislation will help these youth obtain identification by improving Administration for Children's Services reporting practices. I am proud to be part of this work which will ensure that all those in foster care have equal access to city services.” 

“The foster care system is entrusted with the safety and care of some of our most vulnerable children. It’s important that we, as a City, properly protect and care for them. This package of bills will strengthen the foster care system by providing much needed oversight,” said Council Member Barry S. Grodenchik.

Advocates and agencies stood with Council Members to offer praise for the legislative package:
“We greatly appreciate the growing interest from the Council in ensuring the well-being and quality outcomes for foster youth, and look forward to working with Chairman Levin and his colleagues on these critical matters,” said Jim Purcell, CEO of the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA), which represents nearly all New York State nonprofit organizations that provide foster care, adoption, and family preservation services. 
 
“The power of data cannot be understated, particularly when it is critical information about foster children and youth who are literally in custody of the City of New York. We are honored to join our colleagues in the City Council, the Public Advocate, child welfare providers, and youth who have been in the child welfare system, to support this package of bills that will provide New Yorkers with more information about the needs of foster children and their families. CCC and others will be able to use this information to better focus our federal, state and local advocacy efforts to resolve the barriers we see in the data,” said
Stephanie Gendell, Associate Executive Director, Policy and Advocacy, Citizens’ Committee for Children.