By Georgina Hallowell
Motherhood Led Former Foster CHILD to a Home
New York has more than 30 different group homes and residential facilities for foster youth.
As a teenager in foster care — a child herself — Shakira Medley got pregnant.
Services for young people aging out of foster care are limited in New York City. But there are some resources available for young women who are pregnant or have kids. The responsibility of motherhood and the services Medley was offered made a difference.
“I was pregnant, so I had to focus because if I wasn’t on top of my goals, I was going to slip through the cracks, and I didn’t want to be one of those people,” said Medley, now 26. “I knew I was eligible for an apartment as long as I had a job. I didn’t want my baby to grow up in the system.”
In New York, young people age out of foster care at the age of 21. The abrupt transition from adolescence into adulthood leaves many with unstable housing or none at all. Across the nation, the National Foster Youth Institute found that 20% of the youth aging out will become instantly homeless.
In New York, the Administration for Children’s Services offers a housing subsidy of $300 a month for foster children who are aging out — the same amount it has budgeted since the ’80s, when life in New York was far less expensive.
“There’s no question about it that people have really terrible options,” said Cynthia Stuart, chief operating officer of Supportive Housing Network of New York.
She noted that Section 8, a voucher program that allows qualified adults to find stable housing, used to prioritize young people aging out of foster care. In 2013, the program was temporarily frozen to new applicants applying for housing vouchers. It re-opened on a limited basis for a small number of applicants with income requirements and a background check.
Medley lived at a group home in Brooklyn from age 12 to 20. She said the group home had limited staff, and she found herself going down the wrong path several times, but somehow she managed to keep afloat before it got too bad.
“I had a lot of independence in the group home. No one is giving you the individual attention that you need especially as a teen, so we did our own thing,” she said. “There were little lessons like realizing like you can’t be in the street all day with no money, so you need a job. That experience teaches you certain things, it can hinder you or teach you.”
After giving birth to her daughter, Medley lived in the group home for a year before securing a New York City Housing Authority apartment. Medley still lives in her NYCHA apartment where she pays 30% of her income in rent.
“Honestly, I had to learn a lot of things on my own, but I was kind of used to that. It was an adjustment, but I was excited to give my daughter somewhere to grow where people won’t ruin you,” says Medley.
New York based social worker Aranis Galindez supervises a program that helps house young mothers who are in foster care working towards independence — teaching them daily living skills, how to obtain employment and find housing, and reuniting them with family members.
“A lot of these kids have been through trauma, so we give them more chances and opportunities. Caseworkers recommend and set appointments for these mental evaluations, educational grants and therapy sessions, but they have to keep with the appointments,” she said. And a lot of foster youth don’t even know about the available programs, Galindez said.
I’ve seen a lot of people get their apartment and lose it, get their kids taken because they didn’t value the opportunity, or they didn’t pay their rent. You have to stay on your ‘A’ game because it’s easy to lose your apartment.Shakira Medley
And those who do sometimes fail to take advantage of them. “You can teach someone the skills necessary to avoid certain situations, but ultimately it’s up to them to use them,” said Galindez.
Medley has seen that with her own eyes. “I’ve seen a lot of people get their apartment and lose it, get their kids taken because they didn’t value the opportunity, or they didn’t pay their rent. You have to stay on your ‘A’ game because it’s easy to lose your apartment,” she said.
In 2010, when she was 18, Medley reunited with her biological family in Queens.
“It’s crazy because my mother always told me she lived in Queens, but we never knew the address,” said her brother, Rayshawn Fayall. “Throughout these years we’ve had our ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change the relationship for the world.”
Still, Medley feels that she is on her own.
“I don’t have a lot of support and that’s what keeps me going. I fall and get back up. My support system are my kids. They keep me motivated,” said Medley.