Saturday, January 20, 2007

Please help the 4,000 California foster youth emancipating each year

State asked to assist those leaving foster care system
Frances, Mary. Whittier Daily News, Jan. 19, 2007.

Some 4,000 youths leaving California's foster care system each year without financial assistance could benefit from extended support for an additional three years.

A non-binding resolution, sponsored by County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, asks the legislature to take up a bill that would extend services to emancipated foster youths up to 21 years old.

No one has yet authored such a bill, however.

It's an effort to stem the tide of foster youths falling into patterns of unemployment, incarceration, homelessness and other problems, officials said.

"Just as youth who leave their families as young adults depend upon the continued support of their birth parents to meet their individualized needs," said Antonovich, "so do youth emancipating from foster care depend on the state and county systems."

Currently, ties to foster care are severed when minors in the system become legal adults at age 18. They must often fend for themselves when applying for further assistance such as independent living programs and vocational and life skills training, said Rhelda Shabazz, chief of the Department of Children and Family Services' youth emancipation division.

"This would give them the option to stay in care," said Shabazz of the potential legislation, "giving them a better opportunity to get a nice start on their own. It is awesome that the county sees the need and is backing us."

Society pays for such youths eventually, but often it is by way of incarceration and other social problems rather than investing in support, said Miriam Krinsky, special director of policy and reform at the Children's Law Center in Monterey Park.

"They often leave care without a single adult to turn to and basic skills to make it on their own," she said, adding that many want nothing to do with the system after they age out. "We need to find a way to give them support without court or child welfare oversight."

More than a third of foster youths earn neither a high school diploma nor a GED, according to Krinsky, leaving them at an almost hopeless disadvantage when seeking employment.

About a quarter are incarcerated within the first two years after they leave the system, and about a fifth will become homeless at some time after they become adults, she said.

Bill Martone, CEO of Hathaway Sycamores youth facility in Pasadena, agreed.

"Historically, transition at 18 has been extremely challenging and difficult," he said, "Having assistance extended until 21 would enable youths the additional support to be much more successful."