Saturday, June 30, 2007

Graduating foster children in need of extended services
Harlan, Sparky. San Jose Mercury News, June 28, 2007.

For years, advocates for youth in foster care have been fighting to get services extended beyond the age of 18. A solution seemed to be on the horizon. The Santa Clara County Social Services Agency, along with non-profit housing providers, foster parents, extended families, and colleges have been working together to create an innovative support system.

For the emancipated youth, it includes two years of help to learn the skills necessary to live independent, productive lives. Case workers will guide the youth and connect them with housing, job training, financial planning, education and other resources. This promising practice would help close a systemic gap that allows foster children to graduate into homelessness.

However, this progress was built on the governor's promise in January to provide $10.5 million for the development of transitional housing for youth leaving foster care. AB 845, introduced by Assemblywoman Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, would authorize the funding for this program. The legislation is heading for a Senate floor vote this week. Unfortunately, AB 845 is coming up short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass. A small number of Senate Republicans are threatening to block the commitment made by the Assembly and Gov. Schwarzeneggar to provide this support.

We can invest in our children now, or pay for them later when they fill our jails, emergency rooms and shelters. The answer seems simple, the right thing to do is also the cost-effective solution.

We can only hope senators like Abel Maldonado, R-San Luis Obispo, who has been a great supporter of services to foster children, will take leadership on this issue and rally support from his party. Now is the time to call and write your state senator or the minority whip to tell them how important AB 845 is to the future of hundreds of former foster youth.

With the intention of protecting them and improving their lives, children are removed from their families mostly because of abuse or neglect. However, most are not ready to assume their role as an independent adult at age 18.

A recent study of former foster youth revealed 25 percent end up as homeless adults, 50 percent are arrested and that nearly half of the young women became mothers and dependent on welfare within two to four years of emancipation. They deserve better from us. As wards of the state, these children are our collective responsibility.

June is a hopeful time for high school graduates. With a diploma in hand, many students are preparing to go off to college. Along with their parents, they attend college orientations and prepare to move into dorms for campus living. Other graduates plan to stay at home a few extra years to attend a local college or vocational training and, perhaps, work part-time to help pay for living expenses. But what if you had to turn your child out onto the street at 18, or the day after graduation, with no support or guidance?

Although it may sound absurd to most parents, this is exactly what happens for the over 100 youth who age out of the Santa Clara County foster care system each year. For youth in foster care, graduation means one thing: emancipation. The average foster youth has lived in 10 different foster homes by emancipation time. Because of the constant disruption of moving again and again, many foster youth do not graduate before they are cut loose from the system.

At emancipation time, foster youth lose their social worker and their foster home. Without the Senate vote, there will be no support system for youth leaving foster care in Santa Clara County and throughout the state.

They will graduate into a more challenging future.


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