An Awesome Feeling: Youth Who Have Aged Out of Foster Care Find Support in New York City
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Every year 24,000 youth in the foster care system turn eighteen and age out of care. These youth are expected to live independently long before the majority of their peers, with few resources and little or no family support. They are at a high risk for homelessness. Dominique Wright is one of these youth. She and her daughter Aniya have found a place to call home at the Edwin Gould Academy in New York City. The Edwin Gould Academy provides resources and support for young people who have grown up without a safety net.
Dominique Wright, 24, sees her daughter, Aniya, as her greatest teacher. I hear Aniya playing happily in the background while we chat on the phone. I ask Dominique what she learns from her daughter and she laughs gently, saying “Where do I start?” Dominique is experienced at starting over again and again. As a child of the foster care system, she has spent much of her life traveling between homes and caregivers.
Dominique speaks with confidence when she talks about parenting and the importance of providing her daughter with a different kind of childhood than she experienced. “I think I am a great mom, especially with all that I have been through and I wouldn’t want Aniya to have to go through half of what I have been through already, so I really try to be a great mom.”
She says her daughter has taught her to have patience. “Even if she asks the same question ten times, I am going to keep giving her an answer because she is a child and she is just learning.” Dominique says Aniya has also taught her to laugh. “She keeps me laughing every day. Sometimes I find myself at work telling her jokes.”
Dominique and Aniya are residents at the Edwin Gould Academy in New York City. Dominique is one of fifty-one young people who have aged out of the foster care system and receive comprehensive services from the Edwin Gould and the Exodus Partnership. Dominique arrived at Edwin Gould when she was 19. She and her daughter can live at Edwin Gould as long as they need to, while she works with case managers to reach her goal of self-sufficiency.
At the age of 4, Dominique and her five siblings were placed in foster care as a result of parental neglect. The children were split between relatives and foster families. She lived in foster care until age 7, when her father re-gained custody. “At the time he gained custody, he was old and wasn’t strong enough to take care of us, so we ended up living with my uncle’s family.” Her father became ill and was hospitalized, so she went to live with an aunt until both her father and her aunt passed away. She lived with another aunt until the age of 19 when she realized, now with a daughter of her own, that she needed to find her own home.
She had nowhere to go, until she learned about the Edwin Gould Academy through Year Up. Year Up is a one-year, intensive training program that provides urban young adults with a unique combination of technical and professional skills, college credits, an educational stipend and corporate apprenticeship. “They helped me with so much more than employment; they found me a home at Edwin Gould Academy,” says Dominique.
“I have a one bedroom apartment and day-to-day living here is more than good,” says Dominique. Dominique feels well supported by staff and Edwin Gould community residents. She recently completed a course that helped her to see herself more clearly. “We looked at the things that were holding us back from moving forward in our lives. The most important thing I learned about myself from this workshop is that I have a bad habit of pleasing other people, even if I get hurt in the process. I have learned how to say ‘no’ in a really nice way.”
Dominique’s rent is subsidized, and she has access to all of the services provided by Edwin Gould Academy. Services include supportive services, counseling, workshops, a peer community, and the tools to set goals and achieve them. Her goal is to complete a college degree while she continues to work. She meets with her case manager once a month to set and assess goals. Currently, her case manager is helping her with housing applications so she can move toward self-sufficiency.
She has also learned the importance of relying on her own resources. During the period when she was moving between households, she relied heavily on other people. Now she has learned that ultimately she has to make things happen for her family. While she receives support and help from other parents in the community, she knows that she always has to have a back up plan. “It’s an awesome feeling when you can support yourself on your own.”
The Edwin Gould Academy and community has been an important part of her growth. “A few of the girls here have kids and are experiencing the same things that I am. We help each other, but I try not to be a burden. It feels like you are not alone here. Life has been difficult for me, but everyone is so positive here. There is no need to be down because everyone is just keeping on."
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