Tuesday, December 18, 2012

From Foster Care to Homelessness

Former foster youth and homelessness: The transitional-aged problem 
Lewelling, Melissa, Spartan Daily, 12/2/12.

It’s someone’s 18th birthday today, but instead of cake and presents they might have to leave home with nowhere else to go. Every year foster youth ‘age out’ of the system, facing a high possibility of homelessness.

More than 500,000 kids are currently in foster care across the U.S. — with 100,000 in California alone, according to Kern County’s Department of Public Health and Human Services, which oversees the health care program for foster kids in the southern part of California’s Central Valley.

Approximately 10,000 homeless youth live in the Bay Area, according to Covenant House California, a nonprofit agency with shelters for homeless youth in Los Angeles and Oakland. In the last three years, 42 percent of the 303 homeless youth who frequented the Covenant House shelter in Oakland had a self-reported history of foster care.

“(Two years ago) 65 percent of foster youth in California left the system without a place to go. 50 percent became homeless within six months,” said Jim Beall, state assemblyman for Santa Clara County and head of several government committees on foster care. “It was an unworkable system that needed to be reformed."

For a female former foster youth at SJSU, who preferred not to be identified, these aren’t just numbers or facts — they’re a part of her story. “I was in the system until two weeks before my 17th birthday (when I ran away) and all I heard was that when you turn 18 you had to get out,” she said. “I had that in the back of my mind and thought 'well they’re going to kick me out in a year anyway.”

After growing up in a kinship placement, the recent transfer was put in a foster home at age 14 when the state declared her grandmother too old to care for the teen. “The first one I was in just for a couple of months, the second one was just shy of a year, the third one was four or five months, and the last one I was there for the remainder of the time,” she said.

 For the 31-year-old, running away wasn’t intentional, but driven by her fear of the unknown and a strong desire to get back to San Mateo where she grew up. “I wasn’t in the best foster home,” she said. “She never physically abused me, but anything I did wrong she would hold going to San Mateo over my head.”

After ditching school for two days during her senior year, the social work major said she was afraid to go back to her foster home because she thought she might not be allowed to see her friends or boyfriend again. “Standing in front of those portables, I had this gut feeling that I shouldn’t be there (and) that was the final push. When I got back in that car I had no intention of going back to San Jose,” she said.

The former foster youth said she remembers thinking of everything on her way back to San Mateo, except where she would live, earn money, get clothes or take a shower. “I didn’t think of those things until later that night, (and) all I remember thinking was ‘f—, what have I done?’” she said. “The ride home, the adrenaline of it, the excitement of it. It wasn’t until the first night that it really hit me.”

While foster children's stories are different, something many of them have in common is a very limited family and support system, said Leslie Griffith, a mentor to several former foster youth and an adult supporter of the Santa Clara County chapter of California Youth Connection, a former-foster-youth-led organization aimed at changing the system legislatively.

“We have a lot (of foster youth) that may not be homeless when they first leave, but will be at some point in their adult life,” Griffith said. “There’s a lack of resources for housing and emotional support. A lot of them don’t have that one person to go to for help.”
In 2010, 5,400 foster youth turned 18 and aged out of the foster system in America — 3,500 of whom became homeless soon afterward, Beall said.

“For a lot of foster kids, they aren’t (counted as being) homeless but they couch surf, or go from home to home,” Beall said. After running away, the former foster youth said that she couch surfed on and off until she turned 18.

“I stayed with friends," she said. "We bounced around a lot, sleeping on their couches, staying as long as their parents would let me stay. When they would ask when I was going home, I’d just move on.”

Referring to her peers in foster care, she said, “With all of us it’s really similar. Being emancipated at 18 was hard, finding a job was hard, really the first couple of years on our own was hard.”

Carolyn Glogoski, associate professor of occupational therapy at SJSU and an expert on the topic of homelessness, said that homelessness among former foster youth “is an ongoing problem.” As an attempt to remedy the situation, legislation was passed two years ago that extends foster care to age 21 with conditional stipends for pursuing a higher education, working a full-time job or going through a job-training program.

According to Beall, AB 12, written by himself, gives foster youth “a little more time.” “Most people realize that 18 is too young to be out on your own,” Beall said. “If you don’t have programs for these kids, there are just going to be more problems.”

Adrian Randall, a first semester transfer student majoring in business marketing, heard about the hardships of foster care firsthand from his father and grandmother who were both in the system when they were younger. While he didn’t want to get into specifics, Randall said that he thinks releasing foster kids into the world at 18 “is a big problem that doesn’t really have a lot of answers.”

At SJSU there is a scholarship program called Guardian Scholars that is specifically designed to help former foster youth through college with access to free tutoring, emotional and academic support as well as emergency funding for food or housing should the need arise.

Rhonda Leiva, interim assistant director of Guardian Scholars, named housing as the biggest issue the students in Guardian Scholars face because “it’s now their sole responsibility.” 

College is scary for any student, and then when you’re a foster youth you don’t always have that emotional support of people telling you that, you can do it. "You can go to college." Leiva said.

Griffith said that losing a job can pose a bigger problem. “Everyday experiences are exacerbated for these youth,” Griffith said. “It’s not uncommon for a young person to lose a job, but when former foster youth lose a job they don’t have a lot of options.”

While none of the 50 Guardian Scholars are homeless at this time, many have been homeless previously, according to Leiva. “They’re a general population,” said Leiva, “They face the same struggles as all college students, sometimes they just face a few more because of what they’re dealing with.”

These 12-Year-Old Children Are NOT Being Protected

County Foster Kids Recruited as Child Prostitutes 
Wride, Nancy, Long Beach Patch, 11/28/12.

A chilling report says foster children averaging 12-years-old are being recruited from group homes for sex trade. The average life expectancy for these child prostitutes is 18. 

Some children in the county's foster care system are being recruited as child prostitutes from emergency shelters or group homes, members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors acknowledged Tuesday.

And of youth arrested on prostitution charges in Los Angeles County, a majority comes from the county's foster care system, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing county officials.

The newspaper said that, according to the county, "in some cases, pimps use underage sex workers to recruit fellow group home residents." 

"`The average age of entry into prostitution is 12 years old, and the average life expectancy following entry is seven years,'' said Supervisor Michael Antonovich, citing sources from the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI. How youth in county foster care, particularly in the emergency shelter, would be able to leave the shelter was not immediately clear.

But as the accompanying video shows, the typical approach to young girls is to shower them with attention gifts, and a recruiter or pimp can earn up to $140,000 per child. The issue of foster children being ensnared into the sex trade is not only a local problem.

 The National Foster Care Coalition is seeking $5 million to counter the preying on vulnerable foster children, who have double the rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as do veterans, according to the coalition. Proposition 35, approved by voters earlier this month, increases prison terms for human traffickers, requires convicted traffickers to register as sex offenders, mandates training for law enforcement officers and requires criminal fines to help victims. 

Supervisor Knabe has also backed initiatives by the county's Probation Department to fight child prostitution and thrown his support behind an ad campaign designed to raise awareness of the issue.

But Antonovich said he was especially concerned about children in the county's foster care system. "These children often come from broken homes with a history of neglect and abuse, and foster children often overlap with runaway and homeless youth with a lack of resources that makes them more vulnerable," Antonovich said.

In 2010, 174 children under the age of 18 were arrested for prostitution-related crimes in the county, according to Antonovich. The accompanying video says they are all girls. He said pimps were recruiting foster care children at the DCFS emergency center and from group homes across the county. 

 The board directed the Department of Children and Family Services to collaborate with the Probation Department, District Attorney's Office, Sheriff's Department, other law enforcement agencies and the Department of Mental Health to find additional ways to combat the problem.

In the YouTube with this story, which was made as part of an anti-child-sex-trade ad campaign, an L.A. County Sheriff's deputy named Jeff said: "It's a whole new level of depravity when some guy says, 'You know what? I got a job for you .... and walks her into this life." The deputy tells the videographer that 98% of juveniles in the sex trade have pimps."

What do the young people think? What do the young people need? It's about more than the money, or shifting responsibility from one department to the other.

Many teen prostitutes come from foster homes, L.A. County officials say 
L.A. Times, 11/28/12.

L.A. County officials say prostitution is a serious problem in the foster-care system.

A majority of juveniles arrested on prostitution charges in the county come from foster care, and, in some cases, pimps use underage sex workers to recruit fellow group home residents, county officials said.

Until now, foster youth caught in the sex trade have largely been the responsibility of the county Probation Department.

 The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to launch a multiagency task force to address the ongoing issue of sex trafficking involving youth in the foster care system. The move was spurred in part by this month's passage of an anti-sex-trafficking ballot measure, which county officials said will shift much of the responsibility for juvenile prostitutes from the criminal justice system to the foster care system.

Of the 174 juveniles arrested on prostitution-related charges in Los Angeles County in 2010, 59% were in the foster care system, according to Probation Department data.

The department has launched initiatives to address the issue of sex trafficking, including running prevention workshops in juvenile halls.

 But underage sex workers may no longer fall under the Probation Department's jurisdiction. Proposition 35, which imposes tougher penalties on pimps, also includes language that decriminalizes prostitution for minors caught up in the trade — although there is debate about the effects of that change.

But officials fear that greater numbers of young people involved in prostitution will become the responsibility of the county Department of Children and Family Services. Department director Philip Browning said his agency was "really unprepared at this point" to handle such an influx. Browning and others said the department was not empowered to keep children in group homes and other placements against their will and can't prevent them from running away.

 Emilio I. Mendoza, a children services' program manager, said many young sex workers fear they will be punished by their pimps if they don't leave foster homes when they have an opportunity do so.

"These kids see themselves as having no way out unless they're in a secure setting," he said.

Probation camps and juvenile halls provide that security. But advocates say the criminal justice system is not the proper setting for young victims of abuse and coercion.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Guardian Scholars Program

Former foster youth step into the workplace to shadow mentors

Mar. 6, 2012 -- Finding a job in today's economy can be a worry for many graduating seniors, but it is a particular concern for students who came to SF State from the foster care system.

Students Kayla Daniels and Vaneka Reed in front of a sign for the San Francisco Unified School District's School Health Programs Department.

Kayla Daniels (right) and Vaneka Reed (left) visited the San Francisco Unified School District's School Health Programs Department as part of a Guardian Scholars careers event on Feb. 10.

"Without a home base to fall back on it can be really scary," said graduating senior Kayla Daniels, who grew up in and out of foster care since the age of seven. "You can't ask your parents for job advice or a place to stay, so as graduation approaches you think 'Okay, I have to figure this out on my own.'"

Daniels is part of SF State's Guardian Scholars Program, which helps former foster youth earn college diplomas. Until now the program has focused on what students need to get through college. A newly added emphasis on career planning is expected to prepare students for life after graduation.

Daniels was one of 45 students who took part in the Guardian Scholars Program's first "job shadow day" on Feb. 10 when students shadowed professionals at such workplaces as Goldman Sachs, the Court of Appeal and YouTube.

A psychology major with a minor in sexuality studies, Daniels wants to pursue a career in sex education.

"My placement ended up being a perfect fit," she said after spending the day at the San Francisco Unified School District, visiting professionals at the School Health Programs Department. "I felt so happy because I met so many people and they gave me guidance about what I should study at graduate school to get a job in this field."

Employees hosted a range of activities including company tours, small work assignments, resume assistance and the chance for students to ask professionals about their career paths.

"Former foster students don't always have the networks and workplace connections that students from traditional backgrounds have, so we are giving them a little extra help to build those connections for the future," said Miriam Markowitz, who joined the Guardian Scholars staff team last fall as a career planning manager. She organized the recent careers event and is working with employers to develop a summer internship program for Guardian Scholars students.

"Our students are hugely successful if they make it as the three percent of former foster youth who graduate from college," Markowitz said. "We know they're going to graduate and can go on to successful futures -- whether it’s work or further study -- but we want to make sure they have the support they need to get there."

For more information about the Guardian Scholars Program, visit http://www.sfsu.edu/~eop/gs.html

Read previous stories about SF State Guardian Scholars at: http://www.sfsu.edu/~news/2008/spring/42.html; http://www.sfsu.edu/~news/2011/spring/30.html; http://www.sfsu.edu/~news/2011/spring/50.html

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Foster Children Struggle To Recover From Identity Theft

Foster Children Struggle To Recover From Identity Theft
Huffington Post, Dec. 5, 2011

"Burdened Beginnings" is a series examining the problem of child identity theft.

SAN DIEGO -- After bouncing between a dozen foster and group homes here in this seaside town where the Pacific shore meets the Laguna Mountains, Mercediz Hand wanted at least one thing in her adult life: a stable home.

But after aging out of foster care, Hand discovered someone had been using her identity since she was 10, taking out a mortgage and racking up $3,000 in unpaid cellphone bills.

Her credit was ruined. This summer, she slept in her car, a 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, because she could not qualify for an apartment. Then her car was repossessed because she defaulted on a loan with a 21 percent interest rate -- the lowest rate that lenders would offer. She finally found a landlord who did not check her credit, but she wants to move because her apartment is infested with roaches and termites.

Sitting outside a coffee shop on a recent afternoon, the 24-year-old mother of two said she is considering filing for bankruptcy.

"It should be easier to get these things fixed, but it's not," she said in an interview. "It doesn't go away."

Experts say foster children are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because their personal information passes through many hands, increasing the chances their Social Security numbers will be used to commit fraud.

Now, lawmakers and child welfare advocates are looking at ways to protect the financial reputations of foster children amid growing concern over child identity theft. With increased frequency, thieves are hijacking children's unblemished Social Security numbers to take out credit cards, car loans and mortgages, thereby destroying the credit histories of young adults.

This fall, President Obama signed a law with a provision that requires all states to run credit checks on older foster children and help resolve cases of identity theft before they age out of the system.

But experts say that is not enough. The real problem, they say, is that foster children's Social Security numbers are overexposed. Matt Cullina, who has adopted three foster children, said he receives five to seven ID cards each year that include their full name, date of birth and Social Security number -- more than enough information to commit identity theft.

"There's probably no other segment of the population that has ID cards with those three pieces of information on it," Cullina, chief executive of Identity Theft 911, said at a July forum on child identity theft.

Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.) has introduced legislation, the Foster Youth Financial Security Act, that goes further by prohibiting states from using Social Security numbers to identify foster children. The bill, which is still pending, would help protect foster children from identity theft by reducing the public exposure of their sensitive information, according to Amy Harfeld, a policy consultant for the Children's Advocacy Institute in San Diego.

"The point is, we need to stop putting kids' Social Security numbers on their ID cards and passing them around like candy," Harfeld said at the forum, which was hosted by the Federal Trade Commission.

Last year, more than 18,000 child identity theft complaints were reported to the commission, compared with about 6,500 cases in 2003. The increase comes as the recession has left many Americans with greater need for clean sources of credit, making the temptation to hijack a child's pristine record even greater.

But the real figure is probably much higher, experts say, because the crime often goes undetected until victims turn 18 and find their damaged credit is preventing them from acquiring student loans, jobs or apartments. ID Analytics estimates more than 140,000 children are victims of identity theft each year, based on a one-year study of those enrolled in the firm's identity protection service.

The profile of a child identity thief takes different forms. In some cases, family members who have ruined their own credit steal the identities of their children. In others, organized criminals target institutions such as foster homes where children's identities are lying around virtually unguarded.

Last February, Felix Nkansah, 28, of New York, was sentenced to six years in prison for participating in an identity theft ring that stole records of children in foster homes to file fraudulent tax returns.

Experts say such cases highlight the porous security of children's data in foster care, where personnel are focused on protecting children, but not their identities.

"Record management at foster agencies is a joke," Dan Hatcher, a professor at University of Baltimore Law School who does research on poverty issues, said at the forum. "Caseworkers either are not looking for these issues, or when they spot it, they don't know what to do."

In a study of about 2,100 foster children in Los Angeles County, more than 100 children (about 5 percent) had accounts opened in their names, with an average $3,600 in debt. One foster child was found to have a $217,000 home loan, according to the study, which was released in August by the California Office of Privacy Protection, a state agency.

Thieves who steal the identities of foster children are targeting a group that already faces financial obstacles. Less than 3 percent earn four-year college degrees after leaving the foster care system. By age 24, less than half find full-time jobs, and nearly 40 percent have been homeless, according to a study by the Children's Advocacy Institute and First Star, a nonprofit that works with victims of child abuse and neglect.

Mercediz Hand has been homeless twice, but not for a lack of money. She has a steady job working at a homeless shelter. But her credit is so damaged that she and her husband, who ruined his own credit, and their two children, ages 7 and 4, are forced to live in an unsafe neighborhood. On a recent night, a stranger assaulted her outside her apartment, she said.

"I don't want to stay where I'm at. It's not a good neighborhood," Hand said, wearing sunglasses to hide her badly swollen left eye. "But this is the only kind of apartment I can get because my credit is so horrible. I'm renting from anyone who is willing to rent to me."

In the foster care system, a wide range of people have access to a child's Social Security number, including parents, grandparents, foster parents, social workers and group home personnel. Each time a foster child is moved to a new home, their personal information goes with them, further exposing data that should be kept private.

Foster children are also less equipped to fix their credit problems because they do not have the safety net that family often provides, according to Lisa Schifferle, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission. Every year, about 35,000 foster children age out of the system nationwide without being adopted.

"Once these children are emancipated from foster care, clean credit is essential in their process to establishing a strong start to adulthood," Schifferle said at the child identity theft forum.

Foster children are also more likely to become identity theft victims because they come from struggling families who may view their pristine Social Security numbers as a new source of credit, Cullina said. And children are less likely to report family members to police, making it more difficult to remove the fraud from a credit report, he said.

As more foster children have found their credit destroyed, child welfare advocates have sought to help. Over the summer, First Star and Identity Theft 911 taught 30 foster children from around Los Angeles how to protect themselves from identity theft during a five-week training course on the UCLA campus. First Star President Peter Samuelson said he plans to replicate the pilot program, which was funded through donations, across the country next summer.

Here in San Diego, the fallout of identity theft has presented yet another hardship for young adults who have seen their share. Mercediz Hand entered foster care after her uncle, a registered sex offender who lived with her family, tried to molest her, she said.

She discovered her identity had been hijacked when she ran her first credit report at 18. She has only been able to see a report from one of the three credit reporting agencies because she is unable to answer a security question: the amount of her mortgage.

"I keep telling them, 'I didn't open up a mortgage. I have no idea what you're talking about,'" she told The Huffington Post. "I'm a little scared to find out what's on the other reports."

When Suamhirs Rivera aged out of the foster care system in 2008, he tried to apply for an apartment and a cellphone, but was denied. That was when he learned someone had used his identity to rack up $75,000 on 30 credit cards while he was in foster care, he said. His credit score was 350, the lowest possible.

"I didn't know what to do," Rivera said in an interview. "I thought, 'Where the hell am I going to live if I'm not able to rent an apartment? What's going to happen to me? How am I going to get a job or how am I going to be a productive member of society?'"

Rivera, now 21, filed a police report, but still has been unable to remove the debt from his credit report, he said. As a result, he pays steep upfront costs for basic needs, putting down a $460 deposit for a cellphone and a $2,750 deposit for his $795-a-month apartment. He is unable to afford a car because the interest rate would be too high, he said. Three banks have sued him for failure to pay the debt, he said.

"It's been a constant battle," Rivera said.

Helena Kelly says banks would not give her loans because her credit was damaged by identity theft.

Helena Kelly, who was placed in foster care at age 10 after her mother went to jail for shoplifting, lived with 14 different people, shuffled between aunts, parents, cousins and a foster home. Along the way, someone stole her identity to take out student loans and lease cars and an apartment, ruining her credit, she said.

Now a full-time student at San Diego City College, Kelly, 22, said banks would not give her a student loan or a car loan because of her bad credit, so she paid for school and bought a car by borrowing government-issued student loans.

She spent three weeks this summer sleeping on friends' couches because she could not qualify for an apartment. She now lives in transitional housing for former foster children, but must leave soon because she is taking custody of her younger sister.

Meanwhile, someone is still using her identity, she said. When she applied for cable recently, she learned she had an outstanding balance dating to when she was 11. Kelly, along with Hand and Rivera, are working on their credit problems with the help of the Children's Advocacy Institute in San Diego.

Kelly said she feels angry that even after leaving foster care, her fate is still not under her control.

"My whole life in foster care, I was punished for choices my parents made," Kelly said. "Now I'm being punished as an adult for choices a stranger made under my name. I just want to live for the actions and choices that I make."

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Friday, December 02, 2011

California Foster Care Ombudsman Office

The word “Ombudsman” derives from a Swedish term

indicating a person who acts on behalf of another.

The American Bar Association has further defined an Ombudsman as “an independent governmental official who receives complaints against the government (and government-related agencies) and/or its officials from aggrieved persons, who investigates, and who, if the complaints are justified, makes recommendations to remedy the complaints.

In California, the Office of the Foster Care Ombudsman is an independent resource for reviewing issues concerning children and youth in foster care and those who care about them. Its purpose is to provide foster children and youth or citizens with a forum for voicing their concerns regarding the care, placement and services of children and youth in foster care.

The California Foster Care Ombudsman provides the following services:

  • Maintains a statewide toll-free Foster Care Help-Line (1-877-846-1602).
  • Conducts objective investigations and attempts to resolve complaints made by or on behalf of children or youth placed in foster care, related to their care, placement or services.
  • Disseminates information to children and youth in foster care, and professionals regarding services of the Foster Care Ombudsman Office and foster youth rights.
  • Compiles all data collected on a yearly basis and makes that information available to the Legislature.

The Ombudsman Office receives complaints and concerns from a wide range of individuals including foster youth, parents, relatives, CASAs, attorneys, social workers, and many other interested parties.

They have a detailed complaint and inquiry process, which includes inquiring if the complainant feels safe making a complaint and if there is any fear of retaliation, and will explore various approaches to address the concerns.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dual Involvement in Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice Creates Major Struggles in Adulthood

Dual Involvement in Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice Connects to Major Struggles in Adulthood: Small number of troubled "crossover youths" carry high public cost, report finds
November 09, 2011 by John Kelly

Los Angeles youths who exit both foster care and juvenile justice earn less as young adults and cost the public more than youths who only exit foster care, and are more than twice as likely to have been treated for a serious mental illness, according to a study released today by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

“Young Adult Outcomes of Youth Exiting Dependent Or Delinquent Care In Los Angeles County” found that a sliver of the so-called “crossover” youths account for much of the public costs of the larger group when they are young adults.

The findings are hardly surprising; there is wide recognition that crossover youth fare worse than youths who only come into contact with one agency. But the California study shows that in many cases, the crossover youths experience negative outcomes at twice the rate.

“We didn’t realize crossover youth would have such striking distance,” said Dennis Culhane, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the study’s six authors. “We knew it would find they’d be troubled, but didn’t expect this difference of degree to show up.”

Crossover youths accounted for an average of $35,171 in public service utilization costs, such as being jailed or receiving welfare benefits, which is nearly three times the $12,532 average for other foster youth.

Eighty-two percent received some state benefits – welfare, food stamps or Medicaid – compared with 68 percent of other foster care exiters.

The research suggests that two major factors for the disparity were treatment for mental health disorders and further criminal activity. Four years into adulthood, 24 percent of the crossover youth had been treated for schizophrenia or psychosis; the comparable rate for foster youths was 11 percent.

Two-thirds of the crossover youths had a jail stay in their first four years after foster care; they were three times more likely to land in jail than other foster youths in the study. The average cumulative cost of jail-stays over the first four years of adulthood ranged from $18,430 for child welfare youth to $33,946 for crossover youth.

A quarter of the crossover youth accounted for three quarters of the public costs associated with the group during young adulthood. Culhane said a follow-up study is already in the works to determine whether other factors can help predict which crossover youths will struggle and require high levels of public assistance.

“To the extent you can do that, there is huge potential for offsetting costs” by making better preventative investments, Culhane said. Mental health treatment, he predicts, “is going to be a major factor.”

The study suggests that connecting more crossover youths to employment opportunities is another potential avenue for improvement. After four years, foster youth had earned an average of about $30,000 and crossover youth had earned $14,000. Crossover youth were half as likely to have consistent employment.

The Los Angeles-based Hilton Foundation plans to use the findings of this study to craft a strategy for working with crossover youth and seek approval for a project this winter, said Jeannine Balfour, the foundation’s senior program officer for domestic programs.

Culhane said Los Angeles County, is an ideal place to pilot strategies for helping crossover youths because of the recently passed state law extending foster care until 21 and the fact that the county has an integrated data system for all of its departments.

“That’s very unique,” Culhane said. “You could pilot something, and have immediate information to make sure you’re getting the right people.”

The study used records from thousands of youths who exited foster care from an out-of-home placement in 2002 and 2004, and juvenile records for any youths who exited probation from 2000 to 2006. Those records were then cross-referenced against service utilization data from the county and state agencies that handle health, criminal justice, employment and welfare.

There were a total of 596 youths who exited foster care in one of those years and also exited probation. On most measures of adult outcomes, they fared significantly worse than the youths who came into contact with one system.

The demographics of the crossover kids, two-thirds of whom were male, ran inverse to racial data of the probation-exiting population: African-American youth accounted for 25 percent of probation exiters but more than half (56 percent) of crossover youths; 57 of teens who exited probation were Latino but they account for only 30 percent of crossover youth.

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Monday, November 07, 2011

Improved Outcomes Due to Extending Foster Care Until Age 21

New Reports Highlight Improved Outcomes for Older Foster Youth in California Eight County Initiative Provides Promising Strategies for Extension of Foster Care to 21 By the Stuart Foundation; Walter S. Johnson Foundation; California Connected by 25 Initiative Published: Monday, Oct. 31, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 31, 2011 -- /PRNewswire/ -- California's leading funders in child welfare, Stuart Foundation and Walter S. Johnson Foundation, issued two reports today with the results of the six-year California Connected by 25 Initiative.

The Premise and Promise of the California Connected by 25 Initiative and Promising Strategies from the California Connected by 25 Initiative highlighting strategies used by child welfare departments in Fresno, Glenn, Humboldt, Orange, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Solano, and Stanislaus counties that improved education, housing, and other outcomes for foster youth ages 14 to 24.

"The California Connected by 25 Initiative was an effort to take a group of disconnected youth and connect them to the anchors that make a difference - education, employment, housing, permanency, and financial skills," explained Teri Kook, child welfare director for the Stuart Foundation.

Every year approximately 4,000 youth emancipate from foster care and many do not have safe and affordable housing, a high school diploma, the skills to find work, and relationships with caring adults that all young people need to be successful. While many young people are struggling in this difficult economy, foster youth, lacking the support of family networks, are more likely to be unemployed, suffer from mental health problems, be a victim of crime, go to jail, become homeless and live in poverty.

Data Shows Education and Housing Success:
The initiative was developed to change the trajectory for youth emancipating from the foster care system. Data collected over a three year period in five of the eight counties, 2008-2011, found that:
  • Foster youth that completed some or all of their A-G requirements, the college prep courses needed for admission to a UC or CSU, increased from 31% to 45%;
  • Foster youth passing the high school exit exam (CAHSEE) increased from 44% to 54%; and
  • Foster youth reporting a safe housing plan increased from 53% to 72%
Reports Offer Strategies to Implement New Law Extending Foster Care to 21
The core focus areas and strategies are described in greater detail in the report Promising Strategies from the California Connected by 25 Initiative. The report will be valuable for counties preparing to implement AB 12, California's Fostering Connections to Success Act.

Starting January 1, 2012, foster youth will be able to continue to receive child welfare supports and services past their 18th birthday, provided that they meet certain criteria, including working towards a high school diploma or GED, being employed at least 80 hours a month, going to college, or participating in a vocational or employment program.

Amy Freeman, program officer for the Walter S. Johnson Foundation, noted "Counties implementing AB 12 will need to encourage youth to stay in extended care and then provide the supports and services they need to maintain their eligibility. This initiative offers a starting point for counties and stakeholders looking to better engage youth and enhance services."

Youth Engagement Key Strategy:
One of the most important strategies that evolved from the initiative was youth engagement and empowerment. Although child welfare agencies and other providers work with youth on a daily basis, staff are not always trained in youth engagement and youth involvement in service planning and decision-making is generally not an institutionalized practice.

"Youth are a critical and equal part of all communities," said Lyssa Trujillo, youth engagement technical assistant for the initiative, "The lives of youth belong to themselves, not child welfare workers, and youth must be involved in the decisions that affect their future."

In the current economic climate, most young adults are struggling to support themselves and rely on family support. Removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect and often disconnected from their families and communities, foster youth are at an even greater disadvantage. They lack a safety net to fall back on and face enormous obstacles on their path to adulthood.

"The transition from childhood to adulthood is a hugely significant time in every person's life," said James Anderson, project manager for the California Connected by 25 Initiative, describing the underlying premise of the initiative. "The fact that so many of our emancipating foster youth are leaving care only to become homeless and disconnected is unacceptable. With the lessons learned from the initiative and extending foster care to 21, we have the opportunity to create promising futures."

The California Connected by 25 Initiative report will be highlighted at a conference on November 1, 2011 at The California Endowment Oakland Conference Center.

For more information about the California Connected by 25 Initiative and to read the report, visit www.californiaconnectedby25.org

The Stuart Foundation is dedicated to transforming public education and the child welfare system so that all youth can learn and achieve in school and life. The Foundation is a partner and convener in melding the resources, thinking, and energy necessary to create and sustain system-wide change in California and Washington. It invests in programs and practices that serve as scalable and sustainable models and that inform policy. For more information, visit www.stuartfoundation.org

The Walter S. Johnson Foundation seeks to help youth become successful adults by preparing them to participate fully in their education, their workplaces and their communities. For more information, visit www.wsjf.org

SOURCE: Stuart Foundation; Walter S. Johnson Foundation; California Connected by 25 Initiative

Immigration: A break for foster kids

Immigration: A break for foster kids
San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 4, 2011.

Youngsters who are brought to the United States illegally, and mistreated after they arrive, have gotten a boost from a federal appeals court in fighting deportation orders as adults.

The ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco involves undocumented youths who are placed in long-term foster care because of abuse or neglect, based on a judge’s findings that it would be harmful to return them to their home country. That classification, which allows the youngster to qualify for legal residency, was granted to about 1,500 youths nationwide last year, said attorney Kristen Jackson of the nonprofit Public Counsel, which represented the immigrant in this week’s case.

Her client, Jorge Raul Garcia, had been granted legal status as a teenager in 2000 but was deported to Mexico eight years later after being convicted of two minor thefts in the Los Angeles area. The ruling allows him to return and seek to regain legal residency.

The court said Garcia had a tragic childhood in Mexico — his father was convicted of murdering his mother, and during his youth he suffered an injury that left him brain-damaged. He entered the United States illegally in 1992 at age 8. The court didn’t say who brought him, and Jackson, who is handling his appeal, said she doesn’t know. A year later, Los Angeles County authorities said Garcia had been a victim of severe physical abuse where he was staying, and he was declared a dependent of the court in 1994 and placed in long-term foster care. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and diabetes and attended special education classes in school.

The county also applied to immigration officials for legal residency for Garcia in 1994, but it wasn’t granted for more than five years, a delay that the court said may have been due to a missing birth certificate. He left the foster care program in 2004, at age 20, and a year later was convicted of stealing a bicycle in Long Beach and of shoplifting in Manhattan Beach. After he served jail sentences for both crimes, immigration authorities began deportation proceedings.

Deportation would have been mandatory after a serious felony conviction, but non-citizen legal residents convicted of lesser charges can apply for an exemption if they were “admitted” to the United States at least seven years earlier and have lived here ever since. Immigration courts decided that Garcia had been admitted to the U.S. in 2000, when he was granted legal status, leading to his deportation in mid-2008 because his convictions took place less than seven year later. But on Wednesday, the appeals court said federal law recognizes the long-term foster care program for undocumented immigrants, in which Garcia was placed in 1994, as a type of admission into the United States.

The law’s eligibility requirements show “a congressional intent to assist a limited group of abused children to remain safely in the country with a means to apply” for legal residency, the court said in a 3-0 ruling. Those in Garcia’s category “should not be wrenched away without adequate (legal) process,” the judges said.

It’s the first federal court ruling to address the issue, said Jackson, Garcia’s lawyer. Interested readers can view it at www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2011/11/02/08-73004.pdf

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Former foster children have overtaken war veterans as the single largest population in California’s homeless shelters.

Many Penniless Former Foster Kids Call The Streets Home
Sharma, Amita, KPBS, April 6, 2011.

Former foster children have overtaken war veterans
as the single largest population in California’s homeless shelters.

The average American parent spends $50,000 dollars from the time a child turns 18 until age 26.

Foster children, who leave the state’s care at 18, get $500.

These findings are among a bevy of disturbing facts contained in a new report from the Childrens' Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego. It portrays the grim trail of hopelessness facing the 30,000 young Americans -- including 300 in San Diego -- who leave the foster-care system each year upon reaching age 18. It's a trail Melissa Lechner has tread for the past several years.

“When I left the foster care system, I ended up couch surfing, going from a friend’s house to a friend’s house," Lechner said. "I tried getting my own apartment with two other people. That didn’t work out. I moved into another friend’s place. By 2007, I became homeless.”

Lechner is a 22-year-old Grossmont College student who works part-time as a caretaker. She has been homeless off and on since 2007. In the winter months, home has included the sidewalk in front of the downtown library. During warm weather, home for her and other ex-foster kids was the San Diego River bed.

“We all cuddled together in tents to keep warm, laid out our blankets," Lechner said. "I ended up with staph a couple of times because of the dirt. Churches would come out and feed us.”

Lechner went into the foster care system when she was 10 months old after her mother was killed in a car crash. She spent the next 17 years with 10 different foster families and in a handful of group homes.

“I knew it would happen," she said. "I’m a foster kid. It’s to be expected. Foster kids end up leaving the system and having nowhere to go. They don’t give us any sort of funds to be able to get our own place. They just leave us out to dry.”

But San Diego County Child Welfare Services Director Debra Zanders-Willis said social workers do try to prepare the kids for self-sufficiency. She said six months before foster kids exit care, social workers help them create a transition plan that includes assistance in writing resumes, interviewing skills and finding a job.

She said there is also subsidized housing available for foster kids turning 18 until age 21.

“There are a lot of resources available for foster youth when they exit out of foster care,” Zanders-Willis said.

That statement, according to attorney Kriste Draper with The Children’s Advocacy Institute at USD, is more theory than reality. She said there are about 100 beds in government subsidized housing available in the county even though 300 foster kids are emancipated locally each year. Social workers try to help kids find jobs, she said.

“But that doesn’t always translate into the child being brought to this worker’s place, sitting down doing that (job-application) work, taking time out of their school day or after school, coordinating with the group home to get the rides," Draper said. "Caseloads are so high.

As a result, Draper said, most foster kids on the cusp of leaving slip through the system’s cracks. And all of us, she noted, are to blame.

“As a state we have decided that a foster child’s parents are not good enough to be their parents," Draper said. "Each one of us through our tax dollars has said we can be better parents. And if we are going to accept that responsibility, then we need to make sure that we are better than the homes we have taken them from. And right now, I think that we fail at that.”

Evidence of that failure lies in the numbers. Nearly 40 percent of foster kids become homeless. Only 3 percent earn college degrees. By age 24, just 50 percent have jobs. And the federal government spends nearly $6 billion a year on foster kids, who can’t function on their own, through public assistance and other expenditures.

“Financially, what we’re doing makes no sense,” Draper said.

But reform requires influence. Bob Fellmeth, executive director of The Children’s Advocacy Institute, said children have none.

“Children are not politically powerful," Fellmeth said. "They don’t vote. They don’t give campaign contribution money. They’re not organized. Of the 1,200 lobbyists in Sacramento, there’s a very, very small, tiny voice (advocating for children) and these foster kids are the tiniest of the tiniest."

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