Malika Ferdinand earned a BS in Social Work from York College, The City University of New York and obtained her MSW from Adelphi University. Committed to her professional growth and development, Malika is also pursuing her LMSW which she hopes to obtain in September 2013. Malika has been with The Foundling for just 6 months where she serves as the Educational Specialist for the Queens Region. She has also worked for Catholic Charities in a similar role. Her interest in child welfare and passion for working with young people dates back to her first employment as a case aid with Lakeside Family and Children’s Services, and her personal experience in foster care. Here is her blog:
As a former foster youth, I know what it’s like to feel alone and abandoned. I also know that it only takes one person to change the life of a foster child in need. I know because it happened to me.
I spent 9 years of my life in foster care – years which were filled with solitude, uncertainty and confusion. My grades in high school began to plummet and I became antisocial. I felt like no one cared or was listening to my concerns. Within a year, I went from being an honor student to promotion in doubt (a designation given to students who may not progress to the next grade level on time). I knew where I came from, but I did not know where I was going. I felt that my future would always be marred by my past. I began to internalize and believe the negative words – “You’re not going to amount to anything,” “You’re going to get pregnant and drop-out of high school.” But then I found someone who listened with an open heart, my therapist, Ms. Bradshaw, a woman who became an inspiration in my life and who I call my spiritual mother to this day. She showed me that there were other, positive alternatives and instilled in me a belief that with perseverance comes strength.
Through continuous fundraising, Ms. Bradshaw started a mentor group for youths who faced similar family stresses. In the course of participating in this group, I developed a sense of purpose, self-worth and began to gain an appreciation for the social services profession. But most importantly, I learned the value of positive human relationships and the importance of having a support system. I was also fortunate to have a stable foster home, a supportive guidance counselor and access to resources such as youth development services through my agency. After years of feeling lonely and worthless, my faith was restored and those positive relationships crystallized within me a strong desire to give back by providing the same opportunities to someone else.
My first chance came when I was selected by my agency to speak on behalf of youths in foster care at the Independent Living Resource Center (ILRC) regional Youth Summit. I was asked to express concerns and explore issues that occur in the foster care community. I then began participating in similar events that addressed social issues such as homelessness among former foster children. So naturally when I saw the position at The Foundling for an Educational Specialist, I applied immediately. I know how important education is. It was, after all, the only way I was able to sustain myself after aging out of foster care.
The Educational Specialist position is a newly created role within the agency (please see Chuck Caputo’s recent blog on the topic). Foster children are grappling with traumatic pasts and are often still haunted by the lingering effects of neglect and abuse. Many of these young people have trust issues resulting from never having had a positive role model. They feel isolated and very rarely are they taught the importance of an education. In fact, often these children are shown just the opposite though the example of the adults in their lives. They then enter an educational system with large classes and overcrowding, budget cuts galore, no parent advocate and less individualized help than ever before. To further complicate matters, foster youth may exhibit defiant behavior which unfortunately can lead to quick judgments and being labeled as a “trouble maker” by school administration and teachers who lack knowledge of the foster care system or the trauma these youth may have faced. With all these factors at play, a foster child can easily feel like she is destined for academic failure and the dismal statistics on the educational performance of foster youth tells us that we need to do better.
That’s where I step in as an Educational Specialist. My primary role is to advocate for the young person in question. Whether the child is struggling academically, or is a high-achiever unsure of their next steps, I find the academic services that these students are entitled to at school and in the community, and help set them on a path toward educational success. Too often people, who may be well intentioned, talk at the foster youths or place expectations on them without involving them in the decision making process. My personal experience in foster care and my continuous work with youth have taught me the importance of listening and self-worth – Not just listening with the ears but being attentive to gestures and body language. My experience also had a significant impact on my sensitivity to others and makes it easier to be able to empathize with those in foster care.
The most rewarding aspect of being an Educational Specialist is helping these youths to see their self-worth and potential. To constantly remind them that, although they may have had a traumatic past, it does not, and should not, ever define them-in school or in life.
Want to help The Foundling promote educational achievement and success? We’re looking for generous donors to help us expand our educational program. For just $100, we can send a qualified tutor to a struggling student’s home, and spend 1.5 hours on school work with him or her – twice. Each tutoring session could make the difference between a child failing or passing his or her next Chemistry quiz. And, now that public schools are no longer mandated to provide in-house tutoring, this service is more necessary than ever before! If you’d like to help out or learn more about the efficient and effective ways The Foundling is tackling obstacles to educational success for foster youth, please visit our Crowdrise fundraising page!