When Gabbie Rodriguez was having a hard time during her freshman year at the University of Massachusetts, there was someone she could call. That was Lauren, the coach that her foster care agency, Heartshare St. Vincent’s, had introduced her to in her junior year of high school.
“When things weren’t working out there, she was the only person I could talk to about it,” Gabbie says. She ended up leaving UMass after one semester, but is currently studying early childhood education at the City College of New York, where she’ll be a senior this fall. Lauren helped her apply to college, and she advocated to make sure Gabbie’s foster care agency paid for her to study in Greece earlier this year.
Fair Futures is a coalition of close to 100 nonprofit organizations, foundations, and child welfare agencies. Fair Futures wants all foster youth in New York City to have someone like Lauren. The group is asking the city to give every young person in care a dedicated coach who would work with them from 9th grade through age 26.
The coach’s job is to provide social and emotional support and help foster youth identify and achieve their educational and career goals. In addition to the coaches for youth in 9th grade and above, middle schoolers would also get weekly in-home tutoring and an education specialist who advocates for their educational needs. Eighth graders would receive 1:1 support to navigate the process of selecting a high school.
Several foster care agencies in New York already have a coaching model, including Graham Windham and the Next Generation Center at Children’s Aid. But right now only 12% of NYC youth in care have access to these services. Gabbie is one of them. She will keep her formal coaching relationship with Lauren until she turns 26.
The coach plays a different role than a case planner or foster parent. They work closely with these other adults, but are focused on providing direct support rather than dealing with documents or compliance.
“They are the ones who will call the young person the night before their big day at a new school or job, and help them reconnect to other opportunities should they not be successful,” says Katie Napolitano, the director of Fair Futures and an adoptive parent.
The coach will stick with the youth as they move through different foster homes. As they age out, the coach will help the young person secure and maintain housing—checking in on whether they’re paying their rent on time, for example—and develop a budget for living on their own. Coaches are selected for their ability to build a trusting relationship and meet the youth where they are.
“There’s nothing on their agenda other than supporting that young person to achieve their potential,” Katie says.
Gabbie had had negative experiences with foster care workers, so she was wary when she first met Lauren. But over time, Lauren earned her trust. “She was persistent and kind and backed away when I asked her to,” Gabbie says. “When I needed her and I called, she picked up.”
Gabbie was 16 when she went into care with her little brother and sister, and she did her best to support them through the upheaval. She says having an adult available to focus only on her needs at the time was life-changing.
She says having someone like Lauren, “makes you feel like you can do things because you have someone on your side, as opposed to having to be the glue of everything your whole life. We will stay in touch forever.”
Thanks to the City Council, NYC has written $10 million into next year’s budget to bring the Fair Futures coaching model to more foster youth. A spokesperson for Fair Futures says that the $10 million is not enough to provide every youth a coach, but it “will offer an essential foundation to begin implementation of the Fair Futures model.”
Youth Communication, publisher of Represent, is part of the Fair Futures initiative. One of our education directors is helping train coaches, using Represent stories as case studies.