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After 20 years, Youth Advocacy Center has closed. While this was not an easy decision, we came to it knowing that we have made a real difference for countless young people. We have empowered teenagers and young adults caught up in government systems to take positive control of their lives through learning to advocate for themselves.
Many important partners have played a role in helping us improve the future for youth in foster care in New York City and around the country. These partnerships --- with the inspirational young people we have been privileged to know, our dedicated staff members, our friends at foundations, our collaborators at social services agencies, our generous private sector volunteers, our academic partners—have been essential to creating change. Together, we created innovative programs that directly benefit youth and the community, and we provided leadership that inspired others to create new policies, practices, and programs.
Our efforts continue to impact the many young people who graduated from our Getting Beyond the System® Self-Advocacy Seminars, like Ben, who came to us when he was 17 with a history of trouble with the law, various placements in foster care, and an education background that had dashed his hopes for the future, or Alison, who as a teen mother living in a group home, faced many obstacles to pursuing the education and career she dreamed of. At Youth Advocacy Center, they learned to advocate for themselves. Ben graduated from a four year university, earned a masters in social work, and today has a career helping others move to a successful independent life. Alison is now in graduate school while also working to support herself and her daughter.
Most recently, we set up model self-advocacy programs at law schools, and over 100 teenagers like Ben and Alison attended weekly seminars held at Harvard, Columbia, Hofstra, and New York Law School. Many of the law students who facilitated these seminars have become inspired to continue working with at-risk youth in other contexts, and to incorporate our methods into their legal work.
Looking back two decades, when we started Youth Advocacy Center, young people in the foster care system were among the forgotten, overlooked and failed by bureaucracies charged with their care. We were often the lone voice calling for attention to be paid to the particular needs and strengths of these older youth. In many ways, our call has been answered; the national and local understanding of issues facing transitioning youth has deepened and become more sophisticated. Today there are more and better laws and policies that address their needs, and other organizations and funders have turned their attention to older teens transitioning to adulthood.
Are all the problems solved? No. With the high numbers of families living in poverty, a weak economy, a besieged public education system, and a tough labor market, this is a very challenging time for any young person to achieve their personal and professional goals. We are confident that we provided important leadership and innovation at a time when it was needed, and that changing times require new solutions.
Although we are ending this chapter of our work, we remain committed to finding other, better ways for all youth, especially those living in poverty, to achieve equal opportunities and social justice. We close Youth Advocacy Center as we started: with a sense of hope and confidence in the resilience and ability of young people to become successful participating citizens in our community.
Our Board and we are deeply grateful for the opportunity to have engaged with young people, child welfare professionals, and others in the community, and we thank you for your continuing commitment to improving the future of our young people.
Betsy Krebs and Paul Pitcoff