Op-Ed | Mayor de Blasio: Fulfill your promise to NYC foster youth — we’re counting on you

A little girl wearing a protective face mask, holding the hand of her mother in the street before to go to school
Photo via Getty Images

Like many 9th graders in New York City, I have faced several challenges throughout the pandemic: keeping my grades up in a virtual school setting, attempting to be active while in quarantine and trying to stay grounded despite all of the changes in my life.

The difficulties brought on by COVID-19 have been even more challenging because I am one of the 4,000 youth in New York City’s foster care system. On top of transitioning into my first year of high school remotely, I have had the responsibility of keeping myself and my 10-year-old brother together as we moved from placement to placement throughout the last few years.

Last spring when the pandemic hit, my brother and I were truly in a contending situation while placed in our last home. School was closed and we were required to stay in the home constantly.  My mental health began to deteriorate.  There were no breaks. Life started to feel redundant.

Thankfully, Fair Futures was there to make sure I wasn’t alone, and that I had the support I needed to make it through the pandemic. 

Fair Futures is a citywide program that currently supports over 3,000 middle and high schoolers in foster care with one-on-one coaching, academic and other support services to help us thrive in the system and succeed after we age out of care. It has been a lifeline for me but now it’s future is in jeopardy if it doesn’t get funding from the city.

Yet, despite touting his commitment to New York foster youth, Mayor de Blasio gutted funding for Fair Futures in his Executive Budget. If he does not reconsider this decision, my peers and I will lose one of our most critical lifelines. I’m urging Mayor de Blasio to baseline $20 million in funding for Fair Futures in the Adopted Budget to ensure that kids like me get the support we need to thrive in foster care and succeed in college or jobs as young adults.

Without this program, I’m not sure where I would be right now. Fair Futures does so much for young people: they provide emotional support, academic support, housing support and create a safe space for youth in care to be connected with one another.

My aspirations in life are to graduate from Harvard, become a lawyer and advocate for youth in foster care. Prior to the pandemic, schoolwork was easy to excel in despite the adversities of being in foster care.  Dealing with the added effects of COVID-19, it became impossible to find motivation in anything.  Thankfully, I was paired with a coach in the program and with her help we were able to get me back on track.

With my coach’s support, I feel I am able to handle anything that comes my way.  My coach has helped me transfer into a school of my choice, find a geometry tutor, enroll in an SAT prep program and apply to be a member of the Fair Futures Youth Advisory Board. We often talk about my plans for college and are planning to take in-person college tours when it’s safer to do so.

Most importantly, my coach has never failed to provide support in times of need. She is available and always ensures a safe environment for me to express myself. When I was feeling discouraged and dispirited a few months ago, she managed to check in on me numerous times, even when I was unresponsive.

My coach believes in me. She motivates me to get things done. Thanks to my coach I feel happier, optimistic and more supported.

Mr. Mayor, youth like myself in foster care are more likely than our peers to end up either homeless, doing drugs or in jail. But Fair Futures is proven to help us beat the odds against us and reach our full potential. 

I am one of many voices speaking out because I fear what will happen to me and all the youth engaged in this program if the funding for Fair Futures is not provided.

All we’re asking for is a chance to succeed. Please listen to us and ensure necessary Fair Futures funding is in the Adopted Budget so we can reach the bright and fair future we deserve.

Chantal Fernandez is an NYC high school student.