Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Financial incentive to support foster care youth until age 21

Selected recent California newspaper editorials
San Jose Mercury News, March 11, 2009.

San Francisco Chronicle: "To invest in our children"

California not only has a moral obligation to do more for the thousands of foster youth who "age out" of the system every year. It also has strong financial incentives to help support them to age 21.

The Fostering Connections Act, signed into law last year by President George W. Bush, will offer federal reimbursements to states that choose to extend foster care to age 21. To qualify, those foster youth would need to be enrolled in school or a job-training program, working at least 80 hours a month or unable to do any such activity because of a medical condition.

California needs to seize this opportunity to enhance the lives of its foster youth—while improving its bottom line in the process. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Baldwin Vista (Los Angeles County), and Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, have introduced state legislation (AB12) that would allow California to tap those federal funds for youths between 18 and 21.

Myriad studies have shown that the period immediately after "emancipation" at age 18 is the most precarious for a foster youth.

These young people—our children, our collective responsibility—are many times more likely than teenagers with family-support structures to become homeless, incarcerated or pregnant. Their chances of getting a college degree are somewhere in the single digits, according to various studies.

A new study of three states
(Illinois, which extends foster care benefits to age 21; and Iowa and Wisconsin, which do not) underscores the cost-benefit ratio of helping young adults get on the right track. The study found that each dollar spent on extended-years support to foster youths returns $2.40 as a result of their increased education alone. If anything, that cost-benefit analysis is extremely conservative, considering the state costs of incarceration, teen pregnancy, homelessness and mental-health programs.

Fortunately, the top leaders in Sacramento understand all this. Bass and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, have long championed the cause of foster care. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed significant reform legislation that has brought more accountability and services into the system.

Bass, Steinberg and the governor's health and human services director all participated at a Monday news conference in support of AB12. If the measure is passed by legislators and signed into law, California would be eligible for federal reimbursement in October 2010.

This one deserves fast, bipartisan approval.

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