Friday, July 06, 2007

Ventura needs to support youth aging out of foster care

Agency helps foster kids ease transition
Emancipating youths receive financial assistance

Wilson, Kathleen. Ventura County Star, July 5, 2007.

Photos by Dana Rene Bowler / Star staff Arturo Vargas, left, independent living program coordinator for Ventura County, helps Sam Shorter move into his Oxnard apartment Thursday. The county Human Services Agency is giving the emancipated youth a hand.

Sam Shorter is getting a hand up as he ventures out.

He's 18, the age by which the law expects foster children to leave care and support themselves. Some wind up homeless amid the county's high housing costs, but officials now have the money to help a handful put roofs over their heads for up to two years.

"This is the first time we have had specific money to go out and rent housing for them,"
said Debbie Barber, spokeswoman for the county Human Services Agency.

The money can go toward utility bills, deposits and food, as well as rent, Barber said.

The agency has $223,000 to aid five foster youths emancipating from the county system. About 50 youths leave care each year after turning 18.

Shorter moved into an apartment in Oxnard on Thursday. Two more are due to move into apartments in Oxnard this month. Two others will be able to stay with their foster families after emancipating, and the money will be used to offset government subsidies the families will lose.

It's not an easy transition, Shorter said.

"I can deal with it," said the young man, who lived with an aunt and in a group home after his mother's death in 1998. "It's more like you gotta do what you gotta do."

Shorter, a high school graduate who had been living in transitional housing in Thousand Oaks, said he will be looking for a job. The emancipated youths are expected to find work and start contributing to expenses within six months, Barber said.

Human Services Agency Director Ted Myers says there's growing awareness that foster kids need help when they move out on their own.

The state has recently begun putting more money into the cause, with legislators removing a requirement that counties provide a local match for the special housing funds.

But an effort to triple state funding from $4.8 million to $15 million failed in the budget breakdown last week between Republican legislators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"It would have been great," Myers said. "We are very disappointed."

Still, the county has the money to start the program this year. The Interface agency in Camarillo offered housing subsidies in the past, but the program ended with a cut in federal funding a few years ago.

Myers said most kids aren't ready to live on their own at 18, let alone those who have been in foster care. The youths usually come from homes in which they were abused or neglected, plus they have lived under the restrictions of foster care.

Many, for example, lack driver's licenses because foster parents don't have the time or fear the liability of teaching them to drive. Others lack job experience because they don't have transportation.

Myers said the Ventura County youths will get counseling in how to become independent, plus subsidies for the housing that's critical to becoming adults.

"When they're having trouble finding housing, it's also correlated with them having trouble finding employment, access to medical care, financing an education," he said. "A home is crucial to all our transition to adulthood. This would give them that base."


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