The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Fair Futures: An Educational Coach for All Foster Youth
A new program will provide help through age 26
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When Gabbie Rodriguez was having a hard time during her freshman year at the University of Massachusetts, she couldn’t rely on her family to help navigate her academic and social struggles. But there was someone she could call: Lauren, the educational coach that her foster care agency, Heartshare St. Vincent’s, had introduced her to in her junior year of high school, who’d helped her apply to college in the first place.

“When I was there and things weren't working out, she was really the only person that I could talk to about it,” Gabbie says. She ended up leaving UMass after one semester, but is currently studying early childhood education at City College, where she’ll be a senior this fall. Lauren has continued to be her coach and to support her along the way, sending her care packages and advocating to make sure Gabbie’s foster care agency paid for her to study in Greece earlier this year. Gabbie says Lauren is someone who will “stay in touch with me forever and come to my wedding.”

A coalition of close to 100 nonprofit organizations, foundations, and child welfare agencies called Fair Futures wants all foster youth in New York City to have someone like Lauren in their lives. The group is asking the city to give every young person in care a dedicated coach who would work with them from 9th grade through age 26. The coach’s job is to provide social and emotional support and help them identify and achieve their educational and career goals. Middle schoolers would also get weekly in-home tutoring and an education specialist who monitors how they’re doing academically and advocates for their educational needs. Eighth graders would receive 1:1 support to navigate the process of selecting a high school.

The model is backed by evidence: around 90% of foster youth who got this kind of coaching through their agencies had graduated from high school or earned a GED by age 21, compared to 22% of all youth aging out of care in the city. About 75% of youth who had a coach also went on to post-secondary education. Several foster care agencies in New York already have a coaching model, including Graham Windham and the Next Generation Center at Children’s Aid, but right now only 12% of NYC youth in care have access to these services. Gabbie is one of them and will keep her formal coaching relationship with Lauren until she turns 26.

image by YC-Art Dept

The coach plays a different role than a case planner or foster parent. They work closely with these other adults in the young person’s life, but are focused on providing direct support rather than dealing with documents or compliance. “They are the ones who will call the young person the night before their big day at a new school/job, and help them reflect the day after, and the week after, and help them reconnect to other opportunities should they not be successful,” says Katie Napolitano, the director of Fair Futures and an adoptive parent. The coach will stick with the youth as they move through different foster homes. As they age out, the coach will help the young person secure and maintain housing -- checking in on whether they’re paying their rent on time, for example -- and develop a budget for living on their own. Coaches are selected for their ability to build a trusting relationship and meet the youth where they are. “There's nothing on their agenda other than supporting that young person to achieve their potential,” Katie says.

Gabbie had had negative experiences with foster care workers, so she was wary when she first met her coach, Lauren. But over time, Lauren earned her trust. “She was just persistent and kind and backed away when I asked her to,” Gabbie says. “When I needed her and I called, she picked up.”

Gabbie was 16 when she went into care with her little brother and sister, and she did her best to support them through the upheaval. She says having an adult available to focus only on her needs at the time was life-changing. “I'm number one in her eyes,” she says of Lauren. “It makes you feel like you can do things because you have someone on your side, as opposed to having to be the glue of everything your whole life.”

The City Council has written $10 million into next year’s budget to bring the Fair Futures coaching model to more foster youth. A spokesperson for Fair Futures says that the $10 million, though not enough to provide every NYC foster youth a coach, “will offer an essential foundation to begin implementation of the Fair Futures model system-wide as coalition leaders plan for further expansion in the years to come.”

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(WEB-2019-06-21)

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