By James Anderson
Children who have grown up in the foster care system face challenges that many of their peers never have to deal with.
Last week, FosterKidsUnite, a local nonprofit organization that supports youngsters as the they age out of the system, addressed some of the challenges facing foster children and honored two who went through the system and recently graduated college.
The keynote speaker at the annual foster care awareness event, held last Thursday afternoon at the Mount Kisco Public Library, was adoption attorney Lisa Peck Goldberg, who works closely with FosterKidsUnite. Goldberg said the shortcomings of the United States’ foster care and adoption system results in 24,000 young adults who age out every year.
“That means they are hitting 21, or 18 in some states, without a family, without a permanent home, without a safety net, and that’s just inexcusable,” she said.
Goldberg works with adoptive families, foster-adoptive families and biological parents who are considering placement of their children. She addressed the misconceptions that many people have about foster children.
“There’s a lot of myths out there, and I’m here to tell you that there is no such thing as a bad child,” Goldberg said. “There’s a child that’s experienced trauma, there’s a child who needs that hug and love and someone to read to them…then they can fly and they can grow.”
Goldberg detailed the process to become a foster family. After submitting an official request, prospective families are sent a 30-page packet to complete to ensure they are serious about going through the process. Once completed, a family will undergo a home inspection and 30 hours of training about the foster system and parenting.
Once these steps are completed, the family can expect a call from an agency within 24 hours, she said.
Goldberg’s address was followed by a question-and-answer session, which turned into a discussion about trauma and perseverance. One woman shared her experience growing up with her biological mother, who opened her home to foster children in addition to taking care of her own.
“They asked her [if] she would take a 16-year-old girl with a three-month-old baby that belonged to her and we took both of them in and it worked out pretty good,” the woman said.
FosterKidsUnite founder and President Tanya Cooper and Mount Kisco Mayor Gina Picinich presented scholarships to two students. Sasha Simmonds and M’Mahawa Sylla both received the Robert Cooper Memorial Scholarship, which was named after Cooper’s late brother. Simmons is pursuing a masters in speech pathology.
Cooper, a former foster child and Fox Lane High School and NYU graduate, is the author of a book, “Surviving Foster Care and Making it Work for You.” She recently started writing a second book.
Cooper, who works as a substance abuse counselor in Carmel, launched FosterKidsUnite after the passing of her brother in 2014. The organization began as a single scholarship in her brother’s name. She said it offers non-traditional services to foster children who are aging out of the system and continuing their education. The services include monthly care packages, individual mentoring and scholarships.
Cooper concluded the program by thanking her volunteers and the graduating students.
“People are going to be the ones that change the world, and when I see people like you, people like her, I think, okay, we have a chance here,” Cooper said.
After the awards ceremony, Picinich offered her appreciation for Cooper’s efforts.
“The work that you do is so very important, and to all of the folks receiving awards, all who have given so graciously their time and opened their hearts…on behalf of the village of Mount Kisco, thank you,” Picinich said.