Monday, August 04, 2008

Emancipation leading only to desolation

Editorial: Fostering opportunity
San Francisco Chronicle, July 29, 2008.

Social workers and the courts use the word "emancipation" to describe what happens to the 24,000 foster youths who turn 18 in the United States every year.

But for far too many, the transition to life on their own feels less like emancipation and more like desolation. Their "outcomes" - to coin another phrase from the social-welfare bureaucracy - are a national tragedy. "Emancipated" foster youth are disproportionately represented in homeless shelter and in prisons. A former foster youth is far more likely to end up on public assistance than to earn a college degree.

California legislators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have demonstrated their concern for the foster youth and a recognition of the deficiencies in the system by enacting a series of reforms to enhance the level of resources and accountability in this state. Some of those bills were aimed at helping foster youth in the transition to independent living - and various nonprofit groups do a heroic job of helping young people who "age out" of the system.

However, one of the continuing barriers for these children - our children, our collective responsibility - is that federal support ends at age 18.

The Fostering Connections to Success Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Ill., and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., would extend federal foster-care payments to age 21 for youths who are pursuing a degree or starting a career. Research has shown that the benefits of remaining in foster care past 18 include a tripling of the likelihood of an emancipated youth going to college.

This House-passed measure (HR6307), which is scheduled to face its first major Senate test in the Finance Committee this week, also for the first time allows federal support for blood relatives who assume legal guardianship of foster children. It also paves the way for federal funds to be used for the training of workers from private agencies and nonprofit groups that are providing foster-care services to a state.

A society has both a moral responsibility and a pragmatic motivation to ensure that its most vulnerable children have a real opportunity to make the transition to a healthy, productive adulthood. The federal government can do its part through the passage of HR6307.

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