Erie County Legislature Proclaims Foster Care Alumni Awareness Week

Date: May 23, 2024

Today, the Erie County Legislature recognized the dozens of young people who age out of our foster care system each year, and the work of Fostering Greatness, Inc. and Partnership for the Public Good to raise awareness of the needs, challenges, and triumphs of foster care alumni. Foster Care Alumni Awareness Week shines a light on the particular challenges for this community of young people and the policy changes and programs that could be provided to support them.

Every year in Erie County, 30 to 50 young people age out of foster care without a permanent home. Removed from their birth families, they have not been placed with a permanent adoptive family, and between the ages of 18 and 21, they must exit the system without anywhere to call home.

The results are predictable, and predictably catastrophic: this population has very high rates of incarceration, mental illness, substance abuse, and youth pregnancy. Many young people exiting the system "graduate" into homelessness, and only a small number—around 3%—graduate from college. Children of color, already overrepresented in the foster care system, are disproportionately likely to age out of state care without a permanent home.

In recognition of the lack of programs designed specifically for foster care alumni, the Erie County Legislature added a new funding line to its budget for the current year. $400,000 will be granted through the Department of Social Services to organizations working to offer this population programs such as job and parenting training, mental health and independent living supports, as well as needed emergency and victim prevention services. Targeted assistance programs should extend beyond the current federal age limit of 21, as these early years of independence bring enormous uncertainty for foster care alumni. This funding demonstrates Erie County’s recognition that supporting this vulnerable population helps not only foster care alumni but everyone in our community.

“Each year, dozens of our young people age out of foster care without finding their forever family and they are often forgotten about. Organizations like Fostering Greatness are on the frontline ensuring that our young people have the necessary services to live a sustainable and stable life after foster care,” said Erie County Legislature Chairwoman April N.M. Baskin. “During negotiations for the 2024 budget, my colleagues and I were able to get $400,000 to fund programs that assist this forgotten segment of our community, and give them the tools to live a fruitful and successful life.”

“The foster care system can be one of extreme instability for our youth. For the youth that age out without finding a forever home, the results are catastrophic. Many end up incarcerated, dealing with substance abuse issues among other things,” said Erie County Legislator Howard Johnson. “My colleagues and I in the legislature are proud to have found $400,000 for foster care alumni services to ensure a better outcome for our youth. Thank you to Fostering Greatness and PPG for their dedication to this often forgotten population.”

“Young people who have gone through the foster care system are experiencing instability, being homeless, being hungry, and just not being able to function. If society really understood the underlying issues that these young adults face, they would be more compassionate towards them, and they would put their arms around them,” said Dr. Leah Angel Daniel, Executive Director of Fostering Greatness. “This is our time to change the narrative and outcomes for those who are still navigating life after the foster care system, unsuccessfully. There are MANY of us who possess the knowledge, power, lived, and shared experiences to make effective, efficient, and real change obtainable. Let’s make the difference that we wanted others to make for us.”

“When I was aging out of foster care, no grace was ever given, no compassion. Pretty much, it was just like, ‘Hey, you're old. Here you go.’ No one cared. There were so many things that I was not taught, so many things I was not given. I faced homelessness, depression, multiple other different things that no one seemed to care about,” said Erica McDaniel, Foster care alumni and advocate. “There should be programs to assist these kids, and teach them how to do the basic necessities to move on and present themselves as adults. We need to teach them how to live by themselves, and how to deal with the emotions that they're having. The additional funding from Erie County is important to make this happen.”

“Foster care alumni should receive the resources, skills training, and assistance they need to live full and successful lives. They were brought into the care of our county and state as children, and they deserve our continued care and support as they become young adults. The new funding added by the Erie County Legislature is critical because it will exclusively serve young people who have already aged out of care, and it can serve them beyond current programs that end at 21 and 23 years old,” said Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Executive Director of Partnership for the Public Good.