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Op-Ed: Everyone needs someone to lean on during COVID-19 – foster youth are no exception

BY SAMANTHA CABRERA

Growing up in and out of foster homes in New York, I overcame countless challenges amid constant instability. Now, after aging out of foster care four years ago at age 21 and months away from starting my final EMT training, the world turned upside down amid COVID-19.

This pandemic is especially dangerous for youth in foster care, or, like me, those who have recently aged out of it. While most people have family to lean on, youth in care often have no one, especially in NYC, where every year over 600 of us age out without adult support. We face increased risk of homelessness, incarceration, and chronic unemployment. Now, we’re facing even greater challenges like dorm evictions, online learning, access to housing, food, and staying safe amid COVID-19.

I’ve been struggling to stay healthy and financially stable for my two-year-old son Carter, who has special needs and is limited in how he can receive therapy services while we’re sheltering in place. Fortunately, we can lean on Manny Tejada, my coach and mentor of three years. Manny is a Fair Futures coach, which is someone who supports youth in foster care from middle school through age 26 with everything from school, work and college applications to finding a job and safe housing. He’s even there for emotional support and guidance, much like a parent.

Manny checks on me daily, providing information on the latest safety regulations and making sure I have resources like food and diapers for Carter. Above all, Manny lets me know someone is looking out for me during this time — something I never felt bouncing from foster home to foster home.  

Even before this crisis, Manny was my rock. He never saw me as just another troubled kid – he knew me as a person. When I learned I was pregnant, he was one of the first people I called. When I was figuring out my career path, he encouraged me to get through school and helped me find scholarships to fund EMT training. 

Too many youth in care are struggling to make it through this without trusted support, so when I heard the Fair Futures model might be cut from the City budget, I was shocked. Manny has always been my biggest advocate, helping me be the best I can be, for both myself and my son. It’s hard to imagine how I would survive this crisis without him.

Every young person in care deserves that same kind of support, in moments of crisis like this and always. Now it’s up to our City’s leaders to ensure they get it.

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