In 1994, when she ventured into the tough streets of Brooklyn, camera in hand, Regina Monfort did not realize she was beginning a nine-year odyssey into the intimate lives of the kids bound to the streets. When she concluded the project, the kids were grown or lost, though all were changed, including her. But her […]
Ericka Francois was placed into foster care by the Administration for Child Services after it was discovered that she was being abused by her mother. Children placed in the foster care system do not normally find success in foster care. Ms. Francois, however, found her niche.
Most children go into foster care and do not get to live with their families. Ericka Francois, however, entered the foster care system under a program called the Kinship Guardian Program, which is designed to achieve permanency by creating a stable home with a relative. In Ms. Francois’s case, that relative was her paternal grandmother, Jane Starling.
Ms. Francois entered the foster care system at the age of eleven. With an absentee father, she lived previously with her mom and one other sibling. During school, a teacher would question Ms. Francois about bruises that appeared on her arms. Ms. Francois would always tell her teacher it was an accident from playing. It was not until one day, when Ms. Francois came to school with a mark over her eye, that her teacher had no choice but to report it. Her mother was arrested, and Ms. Francois was placed into foster care at Heartshare St. Vincent’s. Ms. Francois was luckily taken in by her grandmother, who was able to establish some sense of stability in Ms. Francois’s life. Her grandmother played a huge role in the type of person Ms. Francois would become. “Grandma raised me, and the culture of the home shaped me,” she said.
Grandma raised me, and the culture of the home shaped me.
For many kids, foster care seems to be an unsure path towards an uncertain future. Those children are constantly uprooted and placed in homes, never knowing if it’ll be their last stop. Ms.Francois acknowledges how much worse it would have been had she not been placed with her grandmother. Although they didn’t always see eye to eye, she feels like the stability of having her grandma in her life made all the difference. “She was still there for me. She took care of me even though she felt as though I was not progressing,” Ms. Francois explains. It wasn’t until Ms. Francois moved out from her grandmother’s home that they were both able to see each other’s side. Living in a permanent setting allowed Ms. Francois to grow. “I learned how to be a lady, how to present myself, just watching her.”
According to nyc.gov, as of January 2018, 8,700 youths are in foster care in New York City due to neglect or abuse. Nearly half of those children are placed in the care of non-relative homes, while only 30 percent stay in relatives’ homes nationwide, HHS.gov reports.
Although child safety is the focus of Child Family Services, after children are taken from the abusive home, most children go from foster home to foster home without any chance of stability. Most of the children are separated from siblings, and removed from their homes, leaving them uncertain as to where they will be each month. Because most youths in foster care experience abuse and neglect, there is a need for counseling and psychiatry; there is a need to prepare these youths for becoming successful citizens in a world that is impermanent and unstable. Some youths may turn to violent behavior or succumb to substance abuse. Some may never find stability, and may fail in the unforgiving society in which we live in today.
According to the New York 2016 CFSR (Child Family Service Review) Final Report, there are “concerns in adequacy” throughout the services. For instance, safety and wellbeing outcomes in in-home services are due to a “lack of quality worker visit.” The needs of the child are not properly assessed, which can lead to not giving the child an opportunity to receive proper services.
The area that seems to be lacking the most is the “permanency outcome.” According to the CSFR performance report, children with permanency and stability in their living situations have a 20 percent success rate, falling under “not in substantial conformity.” Success in other areas such as permanency goal for the child and achieving reunification, guardianship, adoption or other planned permanent living arrangements were equally low.
Not all the services in the foster care system were deficient, and Ms. Francois took advantage of some of the programs. Ms. Francois participated in the Youth Communication Program, where she would spend the summer “rigorously” writing. The program gave Ms. Francois the opportunity to write for the foster care youth magazine, Represent. Her writing was about her experiences in foster care, allowing her to reach other youths in foster care.
While using her writing as an outlet, she also discovered her passion for journalism. “I thought it was fun. People kept saying how I was good at this, she said.” Ms. Francois later was offered the Redlich Horwitz Foundation internship. The Redlich Horwitz Foundation’s mission is to help all foster care youths with permanent placement. Ms. Francois’s internship was part of a “two-year grant of $140,000 to implement a permanency pact program to match 40 older teens with permanent, lifelong adult connections.” Ms. Francois was paid to write about the program’s impact, highlighting the importance of having a mentor while in foster care. Ms. Francois was then offered a college internship with Administration for Child Services (ACS), writing for their newsletter. Not only did she find an outlet in writing and reporting, but she also found a way to connect with others. “My Journalism wasn’t about getting the job done. I was emotionally invested,” she explained.
Within the chaos of foster care and trying to understand why things turned out the way they did, she found a passion. Ms. Francois, now a student at LaGuardia Community College, is pursuing her dream to be a journalist. It was her experience in Heartshare that gave her an opportunity to see a light at the end of the tunnel.“Talking to all those people, I realized everyone has a story,” Ms. Francois says. In the case of Ericka Francois, it is safe to say, her story is extraordinary.