NEW ROCHELLE, NY — County Executive Robert P. Astorino announced that Westchester County was recently awarded a $2 million federal grant to help prevent homelessness and promote independence for young adults when they leave the county’s foster care system. Each year, approximately 75 young adults age out of foster care.
“This grant, which we appropriately call ‘Westchester Building Futures,’ is designed to provide resources and life lines to young adults transitioning to living on their own,” Astorino said. “We hope our efforts will become a model nationwide.”
Westchester is one of only six communities nationwide – and the only one in New York State – to be awarded the grant. This phase of funding builds on a 2013-15 planning grant totaling $720,000. If Westchester’s program is successful, the next and final phase would be for full implementation and potential replication nationwide.
The “Westchester Building Futures” (WBF) program is centered on four cornerstones: social and emotional wellbeing; permanent connections; education and employment; and stable housing.
At the core of the program is a peer-to-peer navigator network that matches alumni of foster care with at-risk young adults who are transitioning out of the system. These trained peer navigators will work hand-in-hand with experienced professionals to help guide the youth through the community’s myriad service resources.
The grant, which is in the amount of $670,000 per year through 2018, was awarded by the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families to the county’s Department of Social Services (DSS).
Westchester’s Child Welfare division currently has about 600 children of all ages in its foster care system. A little over half of these youth are between the ages of 14 and 21, which is the target population for the WBF initiative. Annually, about 75 youth ages 18 to 21 leave the county’s foster care system. This figure includes children who voluntarily exit at age 18 and others who must leave by their 21st birthday.
Kevin M. McGuire, DSS Commissioner, said the grant money will help the county to implement comprehensive strategies that will benefit these older children – not just in the field of housing, but also in employment and education. The young people themselves are expected to be part of the implementation and evaluation process, he added.
“Who better than the youth who have the lived the experience to tell us what their needs are and how we can help?” said McGuire.
The implementation team also includes partners from Fordham University’s Children and Families Institute for Research, Support and Training; the National Center for Social Work Trauma Education and Workforce Development; Center Lane; Family Ties of Westchester; Westchester’s Student Advocacy; You Gotta Believe; and Casey Family Programs.