Finding Foster Children a Family When They Turn 21

Yaridania Betancourt, 40, is a family recruiter for You Gotta Believe: The Older Child Adoption and Permanency Movement in New York.

What is a family recruiter?

I work with older youth who are aging out of the foster care system but do not have a family to rely on for emotional support. I try to find them a family or an individual who is prepared and willing to commit unconditionally to them for life and offer the kind of emotional support a family provides.

How do you find such people?

You Gotta Believe is a nonprofit. It starts by exploring every possible person in the young person’s life who has any connection to them and see if any of them could provide the emotional support needed. Any candidates then receive training to be able to successfully support the young person.

How old are the people you are helping?

They are between 18 and 21 years old. At 21, in New York State, they age out of the foster care system and are at risk of poverty and homelessness. In some states, foster care ends at 18.

Is this a widespread problem?

An estimated 750 individuals age out of foster care every year, just in New York City. It’s 22,000 nationwide.

What do you do if there is no one willing to undertake a long-term commitment?

If we can’t find anyone in their lives, we explore people who have signed up with You Gotta Believe to be parents to older youth. The volunteers are evaluated, go through a background check and then take a series of training classes to learn about late adolescent issues.

How do you match up prospective parents and young people?

We have gatherings, which can be picnics in a park, with volleyball and Frisbees, in the summer months. We also have indoor events where people engage with one another through activities, games — and eating — so they hopefully spark a connection that will lead to a lifelong bond.

Who wants to get involved?

We get all kinds of people — families, couples, single people — many of whom have been thinking about this kind of commitment for a long time. Some have adopted before, and some have children who are grown and are ready for another commitment.

How long have you been doing this?

I have been working in this field since my early 20s. I was a youth in foster care and not adopted. I lived in a group home, so I know personally the struggles and emotional needs of such kids. I left at 19 but later returned there and worked for more than 11 years helping the residents with their lives. After that, I joined You Gotta Believe.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

It happened recently, when one of the kids got discouraged, crying that “I just want someone to stick around.”

Those days are challenging because it’s a reminder that those kids deserve a family that provides them unconditional love and support.