Op-Ed | Aging out of NYC Foster Care System

Poor homeless man or refugee sleeping on the wooden bench on the urban street in the city, social documentary concept, selective focus, black and white
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Before my 4th birthday, I entered the foster care system with my younger brother. By the time I was a teenager, I had experienced more trauma, abuse, and pain than most adults will know in their entire lifetime. 

It wasn’t until I turned 25 that I was finally able to say that I had someone in my life who I can count on.  One who believes in me and uplifts me, much like a parent would. My Fair Futures coach, Maharouf, brings stability, care, and love to my life every single day. Fair Futures is a proven model implemented at all 26 foster care agencies in NYC that provides 1:1 coaching, tutoring and other supports to help young people like me who grew up in foster care successfully prepare for adulthood.  

Mayor Eric Adams recently committed to support Fair Futures for youth ages 21-26 who have aged out of care in his Executive Budget. Many young people, myself included, did not have the benefits of Fair Futures when we aged out of care at 21 – but that can change for future generations. Yes, I made it, thanks for Maharouf, but others are still waiting for their Maharouf. That’s why I am standing with my friends who grew up in foster care and aged out to ask New York City and the Mayor to ensure that full funding for Fair Futures is solidified in the adopted FY23 city budget to serve youth from middle school to age 26. 

Before meeting Maharouf, I had to face life’s challenges completely on my own. When trying to find housing, I didn’t have a parent to lean on for a place to stay or advice on how to navigate NYC’s rental market. Without that necessary support system, I was homeless and at one point arrested. The struggles I experienced growing up in the foster care system, the lack of support and the loneliness I experienced Made everything difficult.

Young people like me who age out of foster care are at a far higher risk of homelessness than our peers, especially in a city like New York with skyrocketing rents and complicated application processes for vouchers.  Between 10% to 20% of young people who age out of care at 21 will become homeless by 24. Experts suggest that number is actually far higher given the severe under-reporting of young people who become homeless but stay out of the shelter system by living doubled up with friends, sleeping on trains and outdoors, and other unstable and unsafe situations

A Fair Futures coach is proven to dramatically change these odds for the better. While I am still currently working to obtain my own housing accommodations, my coach Maharouf is helping me navigate the difficult process of finding and applying for housing vouchers, which alleviates a lot of the stress that comes with looking for a place I can call home. 

Maharouf is also that person I know I can turn to celebrate my wins and work through my challenges. Ever since we connected, we have spoken almost every day –  we talk about life, he gives me insightful advice and helps me keep my head held high. Even on my darkest days, I try my best to maintain a positive mindset about my future and get back on my feet, and when times get really tough, Maharouf is always there to pick me up. 

For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m not alone and that my experiences growing up in foster care won’t define my life forever. Maharouf started as just my coach, but he has quickly become more than that – he is my friend. Like many Fair Futures coaches, he came from the same communities young people like me grow up in and has now dedicated his life to making sure youth in care have a fair shot at success. It truly is life-changing to finally have someone in my life who not only understands where I come from but can also offer guidance through life and adulthood.

That’s why fully funding Fair Futures is vital for young people aged 21-26 who have or will soon exit out of care in New York City. All young people who age out of foster care deserve to have someone like Maharouf by their side. Now it’s up to New York City to make that a reality.

Jacob Torres is a former youth in New York City’s Foster Care System.