Kelly Brown seemed like a foster care success story. After a rough childhood, bumping around from family to family, she graduated high school, attended Brooklyn College for two years and got a steady job as a security guard.
Then came trouble. A modeling agency approached her in August 2002 with a job that was supposed to pay $40,000 to 50,000 per year. Flattered, she quit her gig as a security guard and signed up. But Brown earned just $12 that month and $12 the next. On the verge of eviction, she turned to Children’s Aid Society, the nonprofit that had handled her foster care placement.
Cathleen Clements, a Children’s Aid attorney, helped unravel Brown’s financial knot. But other former foster kids aren’t so lucky, Clements explained. Legally independent at a young age, many fall prey to scams or mismanage their money.
To help, Children’s Aid is now launching a new program to provide legal services specifically for young adults “aging out” of foster care.
Since congress passed the Foster Care Independence Act in 1999, New York has expanded its programs to help the 650 kids who leave the city’s system each year. The city and its contractors now offer workshops and programs that address issues like housing and job-hunting.
Still, there are gaps. “All their training is focused on finding housing, not what happens once they’ve got it,” Clements said. “The problem is, most foster kids don’t know how to enforce their rights. They’re used to being tossed aside.” Other youth agencies, like The Door in Manhattan, also offer legal support to foster kids. Yet none serve youth who have already aged out.
The new program will kick off this month with “Know Your Rights” sessions for the 40 teens graduating from Children’s Aid foster care this year. They will cover seven legal topics, including housing leases, job contracts and immigration policies.
That makes perfect sense to Giselle John, a foster care advocate who aged out four years ago. “If you start making aftercare services available when teens have one foot in and one foot out of the system, you can build trust,” she said. “They may actually turn to you after they’ve been thrown to the wolves.”