Monday, January 01, 2007

Indifference towards youth in and from the LA County foster care system

Editorial: Kids R’nt Us
Pasadena Weekly, July 7, 2006.

A local education advocate recently took to quoting Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel at the end of his postings. “The opposite of love, I have found, is not hate,” so goes the famous quote, “but indifference.”

Wiesel could have very well been speaking about the adults in charge of the Los Angeles County foster care system, who, as PW Deputy Editor Joe Piasecki found in an outstanding five-part investigative series on the system and the children it is supposed to be caring for, has dashed any hope many of these kids might have had for a normal life.

If county officials don’t actually hate some of these children, many of whom will become homeless, penniless and prone to crime, sex and drugs before they are old enough to vote, they are certainly indifferent to their tragic plight, a preventable fate that those same officials helped to create through their incompetence, corruption, benign neglect or combinations of the three.

After more than 16,000 words, Piasecki’s series left us swimming in numbers, all of which added up to the realization that citizens of Los Angeles County can lay claim to a failing foster care system. The following is but a portion of some of the disturbing facts that Piasecki found in his research.

* The Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles estimates nearly one-third of foster youth will become homeless within two years of leaving the system. Another group, the Covenant House of California, guesses that as many as half of local foster youth become homeless six months after leaving care.

* Home at Last, an advocacy partnership between the Children’s Law Center and Occidental College, finds that at least one in three foster kids who leave county care at 18 will not have a high school diploma or GED, another third will struggle with mental health or substance abuse issues, one in four will wind up in jail, and fewer than half will find a job.

* Of the 289 homeless youth that the Pacific Clinics Healthy Transitions Program encountered in and around Pasadena in 2004 and 2005, about half had emancipated from the Los Angeles County foster care system and all were suffering from learning disabilities or depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders.

* More than 70 percent of those kids used alcohol and marijuana, and more than 35 percent used amphetamines, according to Pacific Clinics reports.

In a word: deplorable.

Yes, some progress has been made, primarily by former agency head David Sanders, who drove down historically high bad numbers across the board by using available services to keep many of these kids out of foster care in the first place, something that officials resisted for years as they went about breaking one life after another.

But now Sanders is gone, headed to Seattle where he will become an executive with Casey Family Programs, and the agency is left once again with a leadership void.

And yes, there have been promises of money for these kids who have been ignored for so long. Why, just this year, $8.1 million in state funding was available to counties that provided matching funds to expand transitional housing programs.

But like most other counties, LA did not put up matching funds, waiting instead for state legislators to waive that expense, which happened earlier this month.

The 2004 California Performance Review Report commissioned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — who two weeks ago approved new foster care funding with passage of the state budget — also described state foster care as a system in crisis, mainly for lack of a strong, centralized oversight body.

We agree with the governor. The question is: Where will that leadership come from? Certainly not from the sitting crew of county officials, who have allowed our foster care system to degenerate into a halfway house for the homeless of tomorrow.

If we can’t love these kids, maybe we should try actually hating them for a while. That’s because, as we’ve seen through Piasecki’s stories, there’s really nothing worse than ignoring them.


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