A Celebration of the PrepNOW! Community
On May 12th members of the PrepNOW! community – foster parents, ReServist Success Mentors, executives from the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), Foundations and NYC child-placing agencies – gathered at Fedcap headquarters in Manhattan to celebrate their accomplishments to date, and consider the road ahead as they work to change the story for youth in foster care.
PrepNOW! is Fedcap’s national, one of a kind system-change initiative that supports foster parents in creating college-going cultures in their homes. It is the nation’s only professional development curriculum that is designed specifically for foster parents, to increase their motivation and capacity to help youth in foster care apply to, attend and graduate from college. The interactive curriculum is delivered by specially trained Success Mentors,
“It will take all of us to accomplish the task we have set before us, to make graduating from college an explicit goal for every young person in foster care,” Fedcap President and CEO Christine McMahon said in opening remarks. “As I look out at you who are gathered here today, I am incredibly optimistic that we will meet this challenge.”
Members of the child welfare community have not previously identified clear pathways to help youth in foster care attend college, said Benita Miller, Deputy Commissioner, Family Permanency Services, NYC Administration for Children's Services. PrepNOW! represents an opportunity to improve the lives of youth and young adults by doing just that.
“Thank you Fedcap for helping to change the story,” Ms. Miller said. “The leadership of the child welfare system needs to pay attention to helping these youth become self-sufficient.”
Lorrie Lutz, Fedcap’s Chief Strategy Officer, discussed the child welfare community’s longstanding believe in the “three-legged stool” of safety, permanence and well-being. Yet when these dedicated individuals consider what happens to young people who transition from the child welfare system - without family or other dependable adults to rely on for guidance, and at high risk of homelessness, joblessness, illness, incarceration, early childbearing, and sexual and physical victimization – they must question whether the three pillars are enough.
“It is our moral imperative to provide a fourth leg of the stool, to help young people in care build a foundation for self-sufficient lives,” Ms. Lutz said.
Success Mentor Cynthia Coomb-Smith and Renee Moss, a foster parent, talked about working together to help the youth in Renee’s care prepare for college.
A deep bond has grown between the two women in the course of their work, with some remarkable results. Not only has Cynthia’s encouragement and support led Renee to focus the youth in her care on college, but Renee has elected to go back to school and earn a degree for herself – making her an ideal role model for the youth in her care. A strong believer in PrepNOW! goals, she also coaches foster parents at a child-placing agency.
Ms. Coombs-Smith works with a number of foster parents; to date, she has helped four youth apply for and be accepted into college.
“These mentor and foster parent relationships are extremely powerful and fulfilling,” said Stephanie Boyd Serafin, Director, Child Welfare National Platform, Fedcap. “I have heard wonderful testimonials from foster parents and Success Mentors about their experiences being engaged in PrepNOW!
Underpinning the efforts of the PrepNOW! community is significant foundation support. Fedcap and its foundation partners share a similar vision about changing the story for youth in foster care, and it is the generosity and support of foundation partners – the Hilton, Pinkerton and Concordia Foundations – that made PrepNOW! become a reality.
Julie Peterson, Senior Program Officer for the Pinkerton Foundation, noted that even with the best intentions, the child welfare system fails too many adolescents and young adults. After much investigation, she came to believe that the one thing most needed by youth in care is the authentic presence of caring and supportive adults. The same holds true for foster parents – the support of PrepNOW! Success Mentors is integral to their success in building college-going cultures in their homes.
“Curriculums and programs are fundamentally just vehicles for building and forming supportive connections that we all need to thrive,” Ms. Peterson said. “PrepNOW! got that vehicle right, and we at Pinkerton are thrilled by the success of the program.”
Roque Gerald, Fedcap Senior Vice President, Education Practice Area, said in closing remarks that the active and fervent participation of every member of the PrepNOW! community is essential if we are to truly change the story for youth in care. At the center of the PrepNOW! community are the youth and the foster parents, but their success depends on having agencies and systems that support them in every way.