There is a stigma around foster care that casts a shadow on its positive impacts for both children and caregivers. The United State Department of Health and Human Services reported more than 437,000 children in foster care in 2016. Hope for Youth has been trying to change statistics like those for decades. Founded on the understanding that foster children have simple needs, hopes and dreams, the organization has helped thousands of children across Nassau and Suffolk.
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“Every child should have the ability and opportunity to reach their full potential,” said director of foster care Irma Edington. “There tends to be a negative connotation but foster children are amazing youth. They are artists, electricians, kids in college attending school regularly [and] in training programs.”
Started in 1969 with a boys group home in Seaford, Hope for Youth offers an array of services for children from birth through age 21. Along with regular foster care, there’s also therapeutic foster care, which includes weekly meetings with case workers and support from a therapist and psychiatrist. There are residential programs, including a girls group home, boys group home and sibling reunification program. The children, who come by referral from the Department of Social Services, can also receive an education, take art classes in-house or in the community and learn independent living skills.
And the organization keeps growing. This May, which is National Foster Care Awareness Month, Hope for Youth is starting its own Girl Scout troop. All girls ages 5 through 17 in Hope for Youth programs are invited to participate in traditional activities with volunteer leaders. The goal is to foster the development of life skills as well as communication and sense of community.
The organization also offers preventative services to help with kinship foster care or children being cared for by a relative. There are school-based programs for alcohol and drug abuse, a clinic to help prevent children from entering into the foster care system and outpatient clinical services. “Grandparents and aunts and uncles are caring for children, but people are not receiving the services they need to keep that child in their home,” said director of development, Kate Travers. “We’re expanding these services as well to try to help these families.”
Foster care parents in non-kinship placements also receive similar help. In addition to the state-mandated traditional training, the organization offers additional training and support teams such as respite, transport, therapy and psychiatric services. Hope for Youth makes sure to match children with parents whose attributes benefit their needs because “each home is unique and each child is unique.”