Friday, March 13, 2009

California’s Foster Youth

There is much to dislike about the Foster Care system in California, but the proposal in front of California legislators, AB 12 will go a long way in alleviating one of the major pitfalls of the System . As a parent who has been involved with foster youth, and parents of foster youth, I have seen firsthand the downside of the system, but AB 12 could give foster kids a chance in life.

Imagine being on your own at the young age of 18. I came from a relatively stable home, and it was difficult for me. Foster kids tend to come from broken homes and go from foster home to foster home before the age of majority. At age 18, they are given the clothes on their back,left on their own to fend for themselves, and basically thrown to the wolves to see who can survive and who cannot survive. There are outside resources to help them through college, and there are programs such as The Independent Living Skills program which have proven to be beneficial, but still not good enough. These kids have no support group or no family to make sure they continue on the right path. As their 18th year birthday approaches, instead of looking forward to college, many become anxious and worry about the future. Even though legal, an 18 year old is naïve and understands little of the world. It is no wonder that few foster care children ever graduate from college. In fact, statistically it is between 1% and 5%. Many end up poor or in prison. Things may be looking up.

The other day, a foster teenager came to the door selling newspapers trying to collect money for college. I bought the newspaper only because he was a foster kid. After the initial period runs out, I intend to cancel the paper because I get my news over the Internet. I do not read the newspaper much. But if it helps foster kids, I do not mind shelling out a few bucks.

Currently at age 18, Foster kids "age out" of the system. This means stipends from the government stop, and the kids are left to fend for themselves. AB 12 will change that and if it becomes law will allow foster youth to remain in the system until age 21. Some states like Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa already have extended the "aging out" for foster youth with much success. Foster youth are three times more likely to attend college "aging out at 21" than if they "aged out" at 18. California may finally get something right.

The San Jose Mercury stated the following:

Currently, most youth "aging out" of foster care are bounced off state support at 18, a tender age for a vulnerable population that often has nowhere to go and no one to rely on. But an assembly bill written by Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would draw on newly available federal funds to support relative caregivers and transitional living programs through age 21.

Former foster youth who gathered in the state Capitol on Monday in support of the bill described their loneliness and desperation as they entered the adult world with no money, no job, nowhere to live and, in many cases, no family or stable adults to rely on.

Many, if not most, foster youth depart from group homes or foster families with only a list of referrals and a bag full of their stuff. A lucky few may find an apartment in a transitional housing program, or get help applying for welfare benefits.

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