In the past couple of weeks at Lawyers For Children, I have gotten to meet and work with many different clients that were assigned to the social worker I’m shadowing this summer. I find meeting with clients at the Manhattan Family Court before their court appointments to be particularly rewarding. LFC makes sure to leave time before court to speak to the children they’ll be representing to make sure all parties are on the same page about the child’s most recent circumstances. It is during these meetings that I see clearly the way Lawyers For Children’s work touches their clients. Instead of going into the court room, telling the judge what the child wants, and leaving, LFC takes the time to get to know their clients and why they want what they do. These pre-court meetings have shown me the difference between blind representation and informed advocacy.
In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month in New York City, I had the privilege of attending a summit hosted by Hetrick Martin Institute and a panel of youth advocates from an organization called “You Gotta Believe”. The summit brought together hundreds of advocates for youth in New York City to discuss ways to create safe spaces for LGBTQ youth (an especially vital conversation after the tragedy in Orlando, FL earlier this summer.) Attending the meeting with foster care children in mind, the Youth Advocate I’m working with and I discussed with other advocates from different organizations the difficulty foster care youth have in finding stability in general, and how this struggle is intensified for those who are LGBTQ identifying. Often times, these kids face rejection from foster homes and from other foster children in their placements because of their sexuality or gender identity, making it more difficult for them to settle into new places.
The work environment of my internship is different from university life in that, at LFC, everyone I’m surrounded by has similar goals in mind to make things better for the children LFC represents. At school, a lot of what we learn about is broad and large-scale, but at LFC I’m exposed to a tiny fragment of a small city and get to see the full effort employees put in every day, and the small levels in which change is needed. At LFC I’m developing skills in talking to and listening effectively to people of all ages and backgrounds, and learning to appreciate the importance of personal narratives. For many children in care who are moved from place to place, one of the most central, stable things they possess is their story.
At the You Gotta Believe discussion, called “Nobody Ages Out,” adolescents who have recently aged out of the foster care system shared some stories about their experiences in care. In NY, youth can legally sign themselves out of care at 18, but officially transition out at 21. The youth present at this month’s meeting were LGBTQ identifying youth who shared their experiences tied to coming out to foster parents and other children in their placements. It was very clear to me after this conversation that there is a lot that needs to be changed in the NY foster care system.
The youth on the panel disclosed that foster care children are often left in the dark with regards to their placements and a large percentage of them have no warning or time for preparation when they find out they’re switching placements or need to move. LFC has a specialized policy and litigation task force that works on getting laws, such as the ones that allow for kids to be moved with no warning, changed and updated for foster care youth. I had the opportunity to accompany one of the attorneys on the litigation task force to a New York City counsel meeting that was being held to discuss some proposed bills on foster care reform. The proposed bills aimed to address some of the issues in ACS policy that make it difficult to keep track of the housing and education choices of youth who’ve aged out of care.It was interesting to hear the counsel members question the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) about some of the areas in which they are falling short. The counsel will be holding a vote on bills that will make it necessary for ACS to follow youth in care, send out surveys to gather accurate statistics about foster care youth high school graduation rate, and follow up on the whereabouts of youth who’ve aged out of care.
Rachel Geller, ’18
Social Work WOW Fellow