Tuesday, January 23, 2007

180 Fresno foster children leave the system every year - and they are unprepared for the adult world

Editorial: Give them a fighting chance
State must do better at preparing foster children for life as adults
Fresno Bee, Jan. 19, 2007, pg. B8.

When it comes to prioritizing the children at highest risk for later problems, foster children should be near the top of the list.

About 180 Fresno County foster children leave the system every year and most are headed for a tumble into ice-cold water. About 65% leave with no place to live, less than 3% go to college and 51% are jobless, according to a study released this week by the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law. The report was funded by The California Wellness Foundation, an organization devoted to promoting health in the state.

What are the chances of these children doing well? It's like pitching them without a life jacket into Upper Kings River and saying, "Sink or swim to shore, baby."

Exceptional foster kids grow up nurtured and resilient, helped along by excellent foster parents and their own good sense. Many, however, find themselves at a huge disadvantage competing with children whose families are loving, wise, helpful with college tuition, job counseling and supported by a wide network of family and friends.

The state can never replicate all of that, but it can give them a fighting chance by helping out with finances and professional counseling during those important transitional years of 18-24.

If we fail, we can expect to spend many times their college tuition in prison expenses and the suffering they will cause others if they are lured by gang members and crime bosses for security, advice and support.

It's disturbing that the hail of foster care legislation that swirled up last year in the Legislature has resulted in so little courageous action. Robert Fellmeth, director of the Children's Advocacy Institute, goes so far as to call it "a fraud."

Some of the most important legislation stalled, including measures to increase education assistance and give hiring preferences to foster children.

We encourage Assembly Member Bill Maze, R-Visalia, co-chairman of last year's Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care, to renew his fight for these deserving young people. Maze expects to take a leadership role this year on a proposed joint Senate-Assembly foster care committee and said lawmakers are committed to reconsidering the bills that failed last year.

We'll see.

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