Imagine all the people who landed in foster care — John Lennon. Ella Fitzgerald. Eddie Murphy. Marilyn Monroe. Steve Jobs. Ice T. Cher. Nelson Mandela. Eleanor Roosevelt. J.R.R.R. Tolkien.
And about 8,000 children in New York City right now.
They all ended up living with foster families—or with relatives, in kinship foster care arrangements–because their birth parents were, or are, unable to care for them.
But while it’s great to hear about foster kids who overcame daunting odds and made a mark in our world—like screen siren Marilyn Monroe or Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs—it’s the all foster kids who need to be recognized. The ones who attend public school, struggle with math homework, wonder what’s for dinner and try to make friends for keeps.
It’s also newborns—or teenagers you ride the subway with, who are caught between a rock and a hard place. You see them every day, but have no idea that they are looking for a family to take care of them. Where they live is not exactly up to them, so they need guardian angels like the ones at Catholic Guardian Services, to keep them sheltered and safe.
The city’s foster care count is dramatically down from the 1980s, during the crack and AIDS crises, when children whose parents were using drugs or struggling with HIV were almost automatically removed to foster care, according to Ann McCabe, assistant executive director of Child Welfare Services at Catholic Guardian Services, an agency of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York. Working with the city’s Administration for Children’s Services, the agency places children predominantly in Manhattan and the Bronx.
“The New York City foster care system has shrunk dramatically from almost 50,000 children in the eighties. Our count now is about 16 percent of what it was then,” said McCabe, who works in the office on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. “But we still do have a great need for foster parents, especially for adolescents.”
“Some people are hesitant about adolescents, but I think it’s more fear than actual knowledge,” she said. “On the flip side, we have families who only take adolescent children, because they prefer teens to babies or young children, who demand more time and supervision.”
Families who foster children through Catholic Guardian Services do not have to be Catholic—you can open your door whether you live in a townhouse or high-rise, condo, brownstone or apartment complex. The New York Times recently reported that parents of all incomes are needed. Calling all hands on deck.
SEEKING FOREVER HOMES
The goal of the foster care system is not just providing a secure home and good care for children; the focus is on permanency. That can mean reuniting with birth families—the preferred option–or being adopted by a foster family.
“We’ve had an increasing number of adoptions,” McCabe said. But an adoption often means one fewer “open” foster care bed for a child. Adoptive parents may choose to close their homes to new placements, so that leaves a need for new foster homes.
To qualify for foster parenting, you must be 21 or older, participate in 30 hours of training, and pass background checks.
“A good heart absolutely does matter,” said McCabe. “We used to have a recruitment slogan that said, ‘Open your heart and your home.’”
McCabe has dedicated her career to watching out for these kids. Her love for working with children was sparked, she said, when she was in high school and traveled to St. Jerome’s Church in the Bronx to teach Saturday religious education classes to children.
One of the supports McCabe said she is proudest of is Youth Employment Services or YES, a newer workforce development program that “provides hope and dignity” to teens 16 and up who are now or were formerly in foster care. The 8-week program addresses everything from resume writing to industry skills and career planning through partnerships with organizations and employers in culinary arts, aviation, IT and health care—and the goal is ending up with a job.
McCabe stresses that Catholic Guardian Services provides extensive supports for foster families, from case planners to sociotherapists — behavior therapists who visit weekly and make phone calls in between. For children with special medical needs, a nurse is assigned to help coordinate care and make home visits. Foster parents and their foster kids are not alone on their journey.
But being a foster parent also means taking part in something that is rewarding for a child and for your own life. It means that your home and your family will be filled with life, love, laughter, and yes, tears. You will watch an infant grow into a child and a child into a teenager. If you are considering becoming a foster parent, please visit Catholic Guardian Services. You may also send them an email or call 718-228-1515, ext. 163 or ext. 174 to learn more about foster care.
A HISTORY OF HELPING
Founded in 1899, Catholic Guardian Services is one of the oldest and largest foster care programs in the State of New York. It mirrors the initial mission of Catholic Charities New York, which was to help children—back then, children who were abandoned by the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Catholic Charities of New York can trace its roots back to the Catholic Benevolent League and its orphanage on Prince Street, the predecessor of the New York Foundling Hospital. Dating to 1869, The New York Foundling it is the oldest agency of Catholic Charities New York.