New York City Foster Care Statistics
(Children’s Rights Report, Nov 2009)
16,000 Total number of foster children in NYC
56% Proportion of African American children in NYC foster care system
>15 Average caseload for NYC foster care social workers
40% Caseworker turnover rate at NYC agencies in 2006
I’m torn as I write this blog entry. The past five weeks have been an incredibly frustrating attempt at finding a mentoring program where I can volunteer, and if I weren’t so determined to do this, I would definitely have given up at least two weeks ago. On the other hand, I’m starting to find a few people who seem to know what they’re doing and might be able to help me. And yet I still haven’t found the right agency. The frustration continues.
Starting with the run-around---a month ago I Googled “foster care volunteer new york city” in my first attempt to find a way to become a mentor. Try it. The results are overwhelming. I haven’t been able to count how many agencies and facilities there are in New York City’s foster care system. There are state-run agencies, city-run agencies, homeless shelters, religious organizations, and so many others---and no central directory for them. It would be a full-time occupation for someone (or several people!) just to keep an updated list of contacts and information for all of them.
So I held my breath and hoped that I could find the right place. I started with one of the first results that looked promising---ACS (Administration for Children’s Services), whose “Mentoring Program is designed to meet the needs of older youths in foster care”. The website looked good, so I printed the Mentoring application, completed the questions, and sent it to the mailing address on the form.
Three weeks later, I had heard nothing, so I tried calling the phone number on the form. I left a message on the voice mail recording. I did that several times. Still nothing. Finally I decided to go walk into their office and talk to an actual human being.
It turns out that ACS had moved to another location and had not updated their website or deactivated their voice mailbox. Juvenile Justice is the new tenant at that location, and they didn’t know anything about how ACS was managing its mentoring program. Juvenile Justice said they had someone who might have forwarded my application, but they weren’t sure. They said they would have someone look into it and call me, which immediately rang alarm bells for me. I know that bureaucratic “it’s not our responsibility” kind of attitude (to be fair, they do have plenty of their own problems to deal with), and the only way to deal with that is to become a pest. I asked who were the appropriate people at ACS to contact, and refused to leave until I had specific names (not department help lines---real names) and phone numbers.
Three days and many phone calls later, I’m not sure whether ACS even has a mentoring program or not (some people have told me yes, some have said no). I did manage to talk to one of the project leads in one of their departments, though, who was very nice and was happy to talk to me for quite a while and answer my questions. I told her about the website and voice mailbox that are still active, and asked her to make sure they disable them. She says that she will take care of it, but I plan to keep checking to make sure it gets done.
I’ve also spoken to a few people at Mentoring USA, and they might have a program that offers what I want, but we’re still having conversations about that. At least they take my phone calls and follow up via email, which I appreciate. I’m finding that blogging about this process helps me push through the frustration of dealing with “the system”---I’m documenting everything, so I’d better have something to write in a few days! I sincerely hope that this is not the typical experience for people who want to become mentors in the foster care system. It has to be easier than this!