Twins Angie and Krystal Pena, 25, are all smilies here with their social worker, Victoria Shepherd. Credit: Provided
Most young adults can’t wait to turn 21, but for teens in the foster care system, the freedom that comes with this particular birthday is often coupled with panic and confusion. Finding a place to live, getting a job or continuing school with little help often proves to be too overwhelming.
Childrensrights.org has some devastating national statistics about those left to figure things out on their own: 12 – 30 percent struggle with homelessness, 40 – 63 percent don’t finish high school, 25 – 55 percent are unemployed and those who do have a job barely live about the poverty level and 40 – 60 percent of young women get pregnant within the first 18 months of leaving foster care.
Child welfare agency New York Foundling is well aware of the obstacles these at-risk young adults face. The Foundling has a variety of services including housing and daycare for young mothers, child protection and foster care services, but one of their big focuses is helping people who are aging out of the foster care system, providing a place to live and advising them until they turn 26-years-old.
Twins Angie and Krystal Pena, 25, got help from New York Foundling after they aged out of foster care. “They helped us a lot, by setting us up with housing, schooling and employment,” Angie says. New York Foundling provided Angie and Krystal with a two-bedroom apartment, which the girls are required to pay 30 percent of what they make. When they turn 26 in November, the girls will be released from the Foundling and truly on their own.
“We’re setting them up with all the tools they need,” their social worker Victoria Sheperd says. “One, finding the apartment. Two, making sure they have a savings account and three, having employment. We make sure all these things are set up.”
The Foundling places a strong emphasis on preventive care, aiming to lower the number of kids who end up in foster care in the first place. “We’re the second largest prevention provider in the city and one of the few that uses evidence-based practice,” says, New York Foundling CEO and President Bill Baccaglini. Baccaglini says the correlation between preventive practices and the drop in the number of kids in foster care is undeniable. “Even those who don’t believe in it have come around,” he says.
The preventive care the Foundling uses is Family Functional Therapy. “We go into the homes, find out what’s going on and that’s what we focus on,” Baccaglini says. “No one wakes up in the morning wanting to hurt my child. They just don’t have the skill set.”
From these preventive measures through post foster-care help, the Foundling aims to help kids at every part of their juncture. While the Foundling is tax-funded, it relies on donations for many of their initiatives. Head to nyfoundling.org to see a list of donation-run projects and find out how you can get involved.