By Susan Grundberg
Executive Director/CEO, You Gotta Believe
You Gotta Believe envisions a day in New York City when Nobody Ages Out (NAO), so that every child leaving foster care is firmly connected to an unconditionally committed, loving permanent family. We share the vision with our government and foster care agency partners that it is never too late for family, and that the power of the unconditional commitment of a loving family transforms young people’s prospects of living healthy and productive lives. We also know deeply the challenges inherent in implementing this vision.
While YGB has always been unique in our approach to older youth permanency and have always incorporated the voice of both parents and youth into our recruitment process, we have experienced a transformation in the way we incorporate youth voice into all of our work; and it has had a special impact on our parent recruitment efforts.
We now have a team of NAO Advocates for Youth who are all veterans of the foster care system. Some were connected to permanent families by YGB as young adults, and some came to our attention having aged out alone. All of them are now employed by YGB and approach their work with a laser focus on permanency.
Many agencies report that a major barrier to permanency is that their youth don’t want a family. When we implemented our Youth Advocate team, we expected most of the Advocates’ work to be focused on peer advocacy. Indeed, when they connect with groups of youth in care, it is almost magical: Our Advocates teach everyone that if you use the right language and stay away from the “A” (adoption) word, most youth admit they do want families and begin to open up to the idea. But over the past two years, we have been consistently amazed by the impact that these Advocates have had on changing the hearts and minds of both workers and potential parents — so much so that they are now embedded in everything we do.
YGB’s parent preparation classes now have Advocates who take an active role in educating our potential parents throughout the MAPP process, as well as participation in training for current foster parents. The Advocates are not only able to share their own personal experiences of growing up in foster care, but they always reinforce how essential it is that every child leaves foster care with a family — an unconditionally committed family. They are able to provide profound insights about what and why children coming out of foster care do what they do – and good ways that parents can help them heal.
Hearing about placement disruption from a professional or a parent is important; but hearing about how multiple placement disruptions directly impacted the life of a specific young person is far more powerful. When asked if any of their thinking had changed as the result of a recent orientation session, recent participants reports: ‘Yes…These youth need us…I feel like it is possible–that there are advocates and experts that will go alongside us on this journey.’
Both existing foster/adoptive parents and prospective families consistently report that the presence of the Advocates in the MAPP and parent training process was the most powerful part of the training and as a result have often raised the age of youth they are open to parenting. As we all know, prospective parents often have preconceived notions about older youth, but being able to get to know our Advocates throughout the process allows them to see that older kids have incredible potential. They also get to see that welcoming a teen or young adult into their hearts and homes will be just as transformational for them as it will be for the youth.
If you have any questions about YGB’s parent recruitment and support programs, please do not hesitate to contact Susan Grundberg or Paul Snellgrove at YGB. You can also learn more about the Advocate teams by attending our monthly NAO Coalition meetings on the last Friday of each month. To attend an upcoming meeting, please contact Mary Keane.
This post is the first in an ongoing series on best practices at New York foster care and adoptive agencies. Do you have an organization you’d like featured? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.