Tuesday, January 23, 2007

If they don't screen guardians better than foster parents, this might not fix the problem

Safety net is sought for aging foster youths
Proposed legislation would provide aid

Gardner, Michael. San Diego Union, Jan. 17, 2007, pg. B4.

SACRAMENTO -- It's a time when most teens celebrate adulthood, but some dread their 18th birthday.

"I felt scared. I didn't know what to do," Michelle Brunetta of San Diego said here yesterday.

Now 18, Brunetta was one of 4,200 youths in foster care who made the forced transition from state care to independence last year. - SOME YOUTH LOOK FORWARD TO AGING OUT DUE TO THE ABUSE THEY HAVE RECEIVED FROM ADULTS IN THEIR LIVES

The transition is often painful -- financially and emotionally. The state abandons most responsibility, leaving many foster children on their own without affordable housing and few job prospects, foster care advocates say.

"Time after time, the state turns her children out in the street at age 18 with no place to live, no means of supporting themselves, no safety net and no hope," said Melanie Delgado, an attorney for the Children's Advocacy Institute of the University of San Diego School of Law.

The Children's Advocacy Institute yesterday announced it had joined with two Democrats to propose legislation to provide a safety net for those leaving foster care and struggling without traditional family support to pay bills, get a job and find an apartment.

"These kids are our kids," said Assemblyman Dave Jones, D- Sacramento, referring to the state's responsibility.

Jones plans to co-author a bill with Assemblywoman Carole Migden, D-San Francisco.

The proposed legislation would provide grants of up to $850 a month to help foster youths find stable housing, schooling and jobs. The grant would be slowly reduced, until disappearing after five years. A guardian with personal ties to a foster youth would be awarded $100 a month to handle the money and act as a mentor.

The program would cost about $123 million annually, once it has been in place for five years. However, the state's investment would pay off in lower welfare and health care costs, as well as provide additional tax revenues as the young people find secure, higher- paying jobs, supporters of the measure say.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers enacted some changes last year, boosting the foster care budget and adding nearly $12 million to help with housing subsidies. Foster youths also are eligible for some selected college scholarships, health care and welfare, administration officials say.

"This administration is committed to providing resources to strengthen the foster care system," said Shirley Washington, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services. However, the governor's proposed 2007-08 budget contains no increases.

Foster care statistics are grim. In California, 65 percent do not have a place to live after turning 18. Fewer than 3 percent will graduate from college and they are four times more likely to be on welfare. Former foster youths have high rates of homelessness and pregnancies, Delgado said.

In San Diego County, there are between 3,000 and 4,000 youths in foster care. About 250 leave the system at the age of 18 every year. Of the homeless youth population, one in three were once in foster care, San Diego advocates say. Statewide, there are about 75,000 youngsters in foster care.

Sophia Herman of San Diego, who attends Grossmont Community College, said the proposal would help struggling foster youths by providing permanency and role models to fill in for the family they do not have.

"I beg you ... give us this chance," she said.


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