VTL Recap: The Children’s Village Institute, Stepping in for New York’s Foster Children
Over 70% of all children in foster care are victims of neglect, not abuse. This was only one of the surprising facts presented to the New York Junior League on Monday, April 25, 2016 by Jeremy Kohomban, Ph.D., President and CEO of The Children’s Village Institute.
The VTL, sponsored by both the New View and Advocates for Public Policy (APP) committees, featured Dr. Kohomban educating New York Junior League volunteers about the history of New York’s foster care system and opportunities to support our most vulnerable populations.
Children’s Village was founded in New York in 1858 to care for children who, in the absence of an organized child welfare system, were otherwise left to beg, borrow, and, often, steal food and other basic necessities.
Dr. Kohomban remarked that “although the modern foster care system has come a long way, more can be done to ensure that children and their families are provided with ‘what they need, not what we have.’”
Dr. Kohomban explained that the majority of children and families who interact with the child welfare system live at or below the poverty line. Under current guidelines, victims of neglect include children whose families are unable to physically provide for them – meaning that food, electricity, clothing, and other environmental necessities are scarce in their homes. Given the strong correlation between neglect and poverty, Dr. Kohomban advocated for alternative solutions to provide for these children, ideally keeping them with their families.
One NYJL volunteer helped put this reality in context by sharing her experience advocating for parents whose children were removed from the home on account of neglect. Both parents had recently lost their jobs and were unable to provide sufficient nutritious food and electricity in the home. Dr. Kohomban contends that the best possible solution would have been for the family to remain together and receive assistance, subject to oversight, with their expenses provided for until new employment was found. Instead, these children were subjected to the destructive and traumatic experience of being removed from their home and placed into the foster care system.
The transition to independence is difficult for foster care youths aging out of the system. The number of challenges they face are high and the consequences even higher. Often unprepared to live fully on their own; over 60% of foster children lose access to affordable housing within two years of qualifying. To provide perspective, of all public housing-eligible communities, including those recovering from substance abuse, foster care youths lose access at the highest rate. This in turn leads to a higher homeless population, as one in five foster care youth enter a homeless shelter within three years of leaving care. In New York City alone, there are approximately 3,800 youths living on the streets nightly.
Alternative resources such as supportive housing, mentoring, and the welcoming homes of foster families can put these children on a path to success. Taking the lead on the ground, NYJL’s New View Committee has partnered with Good Shepherd Services to mentor youths that have aged out of foster care and live at Good Shepherd Shelters and Chelsea Foyer. Throughout the evening, a recurring theme was the idea that people need to feel a sense of belonging among people, not systems, in order to achieve future success and independence.
“Belonging is the nonnegotiable foundation of success,” stated Dr. Kohomban. A sense of belonging is what New View and Good Shepherd strive to provide.
APP is continuing to explore advocacy solutions, including legislation that would expand supportive housing for youth aging out of the foster care system. This unique housing arrangement incorporates affordable housing with onsite resources, such as therapists and social workers, who provide support during the transition to independence. APP will continue to advance this issue in partnership with New View during the 2016-2017 volunteer year.