Elected officials and political candidates in New York City rallied with foster youth Tuesday, urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to expand funding for a popular program that matches thousands of vulnerable young people to a paid mentor for help with everything from homework to life coaching.
In its initial budget proposal earlier this year, the de Blasio administration did not include funding for the $12 million “Fair Futures” program. Youth advocates and supporters speaking on the virtual rally want the amount raised to $20 million, and the program made permanent. Over its two years, 3,000 young people from 11 through 21 have been provided one of roughly 350 Fair Futures “coaches,” tutors or middle school specialists.
“The support from my coach helps me through those bad days,” said Chantal Fernandez, a 15-year-old foster youth who said she has struggled with mental health issues. “Seeing her emails make me feel valued and reassures me.”
For the past two years, dozens of foster care agencies have provided full-time coaches or education supporters for young people like Chantal. These professionals fill roles traditional caseworkers often can’t, helping them with school work, high school selection, career coaching and general confidence-building.
The campaign for Fair Futures – which includes over 100 advocacy groups, foundations*, human services nonprofits and an active youth board – initially sought $50 million for the program in 2019, with the goal of providing a coach or tutor to all current or former foster youth from middle school through age 26, an estimated 7,000 young people.
In response, the city partially funded the program at $10 million, followed by $12 million in 2020. Despite vigorous advocacy during the coronavirus pandemic, the city has yet to provide permanent funding for the program.
Chantal said her coach has tried to stay in contact, even when Chantal was too down to respond.
“She helped me lift myself back up little by little,” she said. “I’m advocating not only for me or for my little brother, but all those other youth in foster care that don’t have the support and couldn’t be here today.”
Eric Adams, the current borough president of Brooklyn and one of the top-polling candidates in this year’s city mayoral race, also delivered an impassioned pitch for Fair Futures at the Tuesday rally.
“We spend a lifetime pulling people out of the river. No one goes upstream and prevents them from falling in in the first place,” said Adams, paraphrasing a quote he attributed to South African anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and speaking to the virtual rally from inside a car. “Nothing personifies that more than Fair Futures.”
Adams described young people in the foster care system as “bright, young, smart, energetic, intelligent leaders of tomorrow” who deserve the public’s investment.
“We’re not going to allow them to fall into the river of homelessness, the river of lack of education, the river of being the victim of crime, or even having to turn to crime just to feed yourself, the river of lack of emotional support,” Adams said.
Other New York City Council members who attended Tuesday’s rally included Stephen Levin, chair of the general welfare committee that oversees the Administration for Children’s Services.
“We need to put this program on a long-term track,” said Levin, who is hitting term limits this year. “We should be doing everything we can to leave this program in a good place on our way out the door.”
*Funding disclosure: Foundations supportive of Fair Futures include The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the Redlich Horwitz Foundation, which also provide funding to The Imprint’s parent organization, Fostering Media Connections. They had no involvement with this article, per our editorial independence policy.