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ADVOCACY FOR YOUTH AGING OUT OF FOSTER CARE

Adolescents Confronting Transition (ACT) Project
(Funded by a generous grant from The Robin Hood Foundation)

The ACT Project provides legal and social work services to a critically under-served population in foster care – adolescents in and aging out of foster homes and congregate care (residential treatment facilities, residential treatment centers, and group homes). This special project focuses on the desperate need of adolescents in foster care for legal and social work services to assist them in accessing the community-based support they need to succeed as independent adults, by breaking the cycle of poverty, homelessness and violence in their families.

The project was conceived due to the dramatic increase in the percentage of LFC’s clients in foster care who are adolescents and young adults; a recent statutory change expanding the Family Court’s jurisdiction to include, for the first time, all young people between the ages of 18 - 21; and the lack of targeted services for this population as they make the crucial transition from foster care to independent adult lives. The shortage of relevant and effective services for this population, and the system’s failure to focus on and support meaningful connections to family and other caring adults, constitutes an unrecognized and profound crisis in foster care. These young adults, or “forgotten adolescents,” who are transitioning out of care, are all too frequently warehoused in foster care without meaningful permanency planning, only to be discharged to discover that “independent living” means homelessness, shelters, public assistance or even incarceration.

The following case composites are examples of the advocacy LFC’s professional staff provides on a daily basis on behalf of thousands of adolescents in foster care:

    Marta* came to New York City at the age of 12 as a victim of sexual trafficking. She did not speak a word of English when she was found, unconscious, in a city hospital. Marta entered foster care at age sixteen and when LFC was assigned to represent her, Marta was an undocumented alien with a sixth grade education and a fierce desire to beat the odds. After placement in a supportive foster home, Marta began to thrive. She learned English and this spring, at age twenty, Marta graduated high school with honors. LFC was able to adjust her immigration status so that she could obtain a green card and with it, eligibility for several scholarship and education programs. The ACT project directors are working with Marta to obtain educational vouchers for her living expenses so that Marta can attend SUNY Purchase with the full tuition scholarship that she was recently awarded by a private foundation.
* All client names and identifying characteristics contained in this report have been changed to insure confidentiality.
    Yasmine, who is nearly 21, needed to find a permanent home for herself and her two-year-old daughter before aging out of foster care. But Yasmine had no time to search, because she was forced to choose between keeping her full-time job to save for her future, and finding an apartment. Despite the agency’s obligation to assist her, they refused to provide sufficient childcare hours to cover both Yasmine’s workday and her search for an apartment. The Act Project attorney obtained a Court order directing the agency to have their housing liaison assist Yasmine with her search for housing and to temporarily provide unrestricted childcare until housing can be obtained. Yasmine has now found an appropriate home for herself and her daughter and was able to maintain her job throughout her search. The Act Project Directors will continue to support Yasmine and her daughter to insure a safe and productive transition out of foster care.
This project allows LFC to direct attention and resources to individual advocacy for adolescents aging out of foster care in order to achieve better education outcomes, vocational and other job training, therapy and appropriate medical services, as well as helping to develop meaningful connections to caring adults who can support them through this time of transition and beyond. Providing sustained and intense advocacy for these young adults can make a dramatic positive difference in their lives, helping them re-enter the community as independent adults. In addition, LFC is able to collaborate with other organizations such as Advocates for Children, The Door, and the Legal Aid Society to create a network of providers with extensive expertise to intervene on behalf of these vulnerable adolescents.

The projected outcomes for this new project include:

  • Provision of direct legal and social work services to approximately 300 high-risk, voluntarily placed adolescents, who have permanency goals of “independent living;”
  • Formation of a stipend-supported LFC Youth Advisory Board made up of adolescents in foster care and adolescents who have aged out of foster care, to assist in prioritizing project goals;
  • Initiation of and attendance at meetings between LFC and the leadership at the Administration for Children’s Services in order to address areas of concern regarding the needs of older adolescent youth in foster care;
  • Development, finalization and publication of targeted resource guide(s) for adolescents aging out of foster care; and
  • Development of a pilot-mentoring project for youth aging out of foster care.

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