Saturday, January 20, 2007

65% homeless, 51% jobless and only 3% attend college

Editorial: Help older foster kids
Contra Costal Times, Jan. 19, 2006.

YOUNG ADULTS WHO live with their parents don't typically sever the financial umbilical cord until they are 26. Parents help out with college expenses, rent, food and medical care, to the tune of about $44,000 per year.

But it is a totally different story for foster kids. When they turn 18, the state of California kicks them out on the street to fend for themselves.

The devastating effects of this policy have been well-documented. Of the 4,000 kids who "age out" of foster care every year, 20 percent land in prison. With no one to turn to for financial support, former foster children wind up in homeless shelters and on public assistance.

A new report by the Children's Advocacy Institute, run out of the University of San Diego Law School, provides us with more grim statistics. Among them, 65 percent of children leave foster care with no place to live, 51 percent are unemployed and just 3 percent attend college, while seven times that number end up serving time.

Yet the study does more than lament this sorry state of affairs. Its authors make concrete suggestions for improving the lot of foster care children.

The authors are calling for a new plan, the first of its kind in the nation, to establish guardians and financial support for foster children after they turn 18.

The way it would work is, every child 16 to 18 would be matched with a court-appointed guardian.

That person, a relative, foster parent, social worker or someone else the teenager knows well, would be in charge of monitoring his or her progress. The guardian, who would be paid $100 a month, would also manage a stipend that the state would provide to each child. That amount would range from $850 per month right after the child's 18th birthday to $258 when they are 23.

Advocates say the cost of the program, which would provide a $47,000 subsidy to each child, is $123 million.

That is peanuts compared with the amount the state spends in prison costs and government assistance on former foster children.

The Transition Guardian plan is an excellent idea that makes sense. Not only will it help foster children become productive citizens. It will also save taxpayer dollars in the long run.

State Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, and Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, have pledged to sponsor the legislation in the hopes of getting money in the 2007-2008 budget.
We urge the Legislature and Gov. Schwarzenegger to give this important piece of legislation their support.