When 26-year-old Erica heard that proposed cuts by New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) will keep nearly one thousand youth from services that keep them out of placement, she took it personally. As part of its proposed COVID-19-related budget cuts, DCF proposes eliminating 55 percent of New Jersey Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc.’s budget. YAP is a nonprofit that serves as a community-based alternative to out-of-home placement for young people in child welfare and youth justice systems. YAP’s neighborhood-based Advocates empower youth, parents, and guardians with tools that keep kids safely home and stable with their families or in resource foster homes. Erica is one of thousands of young people who have received YAP’s services in New Jersey since 1978.
She sent YAP a letter to share with lawmakers, Governor Phil Murphy, and anyone who can influence them to restore YAP’s services and keep New Jersey families strong, safe and together. “Removing YAP from the lives of children and families whose challenges are even greater in light of the COVID-19 pandemic is a significant setback in a critical continuum of care proven to put kids on a positive trajectory,” said YAP CEO Jeff Fleischer. “In the not so long run, the result will be more dollars spent on expensive, often faraway residential placements and youth prison.”
My name is Erica, I entered foster care at 14 years old after being sexually abused by my father, I was damaged emotionally. I went through 24 foster homes in 4 years, it was destroying me, but there was one thing I had through all of this, the YAP program and Milly. This program gave me a personal Advocate (Milly) and friends (the other kids in the program). When I had to start over new over and over again, I still had my friends from YAP. As foster children, we are already deprived, we didn’t receive the love and care from our families that we were supposed to. YAP gave us the opportunity to be kids, to go out and have fun with friends and not have to worry about anything. We got to feel like normal kids thanks to this program. Closing it down and firing all the workers is not the answer. Doing that is depriving foster children of the opportunity to be normal and have fun. These kids are already more susceptible to depression and other mental health issues, what do you think will happen when there’s no programs for them to get out and have friends and have a life? These children will be damaged for life. You may not think this is a very serious matter, but I do. This program and Milly changed my life for the better, I don’t know where I would be had it not been for her and the program. Please don’t take this away from our children, they need it more than you could ever know! Thank you for taking the time to read this, I really hope you reconsider your decision. – Erica