NEW YORK—The city has taken nearly 12,000 children and youth into its care, and according to a new report, they are being set up for failure.
On Wednesday, the City Council unanimously passed three pieces of legislation to create more oversight in the foster care system, to better understand how to connect the youth with families, higher education, housing, and employment.
Public advocate Letitia James, proposed a bill that would track those who age out of the foster care system until they are no longer at risk.
James’s legislation will require the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to issue annual reports on services provided to those in the system and those preparing to leave the system, and any youth at risk for homelessness.
Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo passed her first piece of legislation at the council meeting, a bill that would require ACS to publicly report the high school graduation rates of youth in the system.
Councilman Daniel Dromm passed a bill that would require ACS to report numbers on the youth obtaining municipal identification cards.
“Every year about 1,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 age- out of our foster care system in New York City. Twenty percent are discharged into the care of an adult, 80 percent are on their own,” said James.
Between 18 and 26 percent of those who age out of the system end up homeless, and about half are unable to find a job.
“There’s the sense of uncertainty, anxiety of what happens next,” said Jamel Robinson, 27, who has spent his entire life in the child welfare system and aged out at 21.
Robinson’s biggest wish is for the city to be able to find families for those in the foster care system, but in lieu of that, he says there should still be support in the transition to greater adulthood.
If a child in the foster care system is not adopted, at age 21 they leave the system, and leave foster care housing. Immediately, they need housing and employment.
“It’s very difficult to find affordable housing, especially in this market, and some spots require youth to have jobs,” said Bich Ha Pham, director at the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA).
Her organization hosts forums to give youth and the member agencies that work with the youth a platform to speak about the foster care system.
Sometimes people are lucky enough to get an affordable housing unit, but they can only secure a low-wage job that cannot adequately pay the rent and bills, Pham explained. Then they are evicted, and effectively homeless.
“The judges at housing court tell us they’re one of the most difficult cases, because there’s nothing they can do,” Pham said.
Advocacy organizations like FPWA want more information on where the problems are, if the rates of homelessness vary, how funding is dispersed, what has worked and what hasn’t, and so on.
The advocates have many suggestions on how to alleviate the high homeless and unemployment rate of youth who age out of the foster care system, such as subsidizing foster care homes even after the youth turns 21, increasing the number of public housing units allocated for these youth, and private funding.
But without the city data, Pham said, they cannot accurately pinpoint the cracks in the system.