Tuesday, December 18, 2012

From Foster Care to Homelessness

Former foster youth and homelessness: The transitional-aged problem 
Lewelling, Melissa, Spartan Daily, 12/2/12.

It’s someone’s 18th birthday today, but instead of cake and presents they might have to leave home with nowhere else to go. Every year foster youth ‘age out’ of the system, facing a high possibility of homelessness.

More than 500,000 kids are currently in foster care across the U.S. — with 100,000 in California alone, according to Kern County’s Department of Public Health and Human Services, which oversees the health care program for foster kids in the southern part of California’s Central Valley.

Approximately 10,000 homeless youth live in the Bay Area, according to Covenant House California, a nonprofit agency with shelters for homeless youth in Los Angeles and Oakland. In the last three years, 42 percent of the 303 homeless youth who frequented the Covenant House shelter in Oakland had a self-reported history of foster care.

“(Two years ago) 65 percent of foster youth in California left the system without a place to go. 50 percent became homeless within six months,” said Jim Beall, state assemblyman for Santa Clara County and head of several government committees on foster care. “It was an unworkable system that needed to be reformed."

For a female former foster youth at SJSU, who preferred not to be identified, these aren’t just numbers or facts — they’re a part of her story. “I was in the system until two weeks before my 17th birthday (when I ran away) and all I heard was that when you turn 18 you had to get out,” she said. “I had that in the back of my mind and thought 'well they’re going to kick me out in a year anyway.”

After growing up in a kinship placement, the recent transfer was put in a foster home at age 14 when the state declared her grandmother too old to care for the teen. “The first one I was in just for a couple of months, the second one was just shy of a year, the third one was four or five months, and the last one I was there for the remainder of the time,” she said.

 For the 31-year-old, running away wasn’t intentional, but driven by her fear of the unknown and a strong desire to get back to San Mateo where she grew up. “I wasn’t in the best foster home,” she said. “She never physically abused me, but anything I did wrong she would hold going to San Mateo over my head.”

After ditching school for two days during her senior year, the social work major said she was afraid to go back to her foster home because she thought she might not be allowed to see her friends or boyfriend again. “Standing in front of those portables, I had this gut feeling that I shouldn’t be there (and) that was the final push. When I got back in that car I had no intention of going back to San Jose,” she said.

The former foster youth said she remembers thinking of everything on her way back to San Mateo, except where she would live, earn money, get clothes or take a shower. “I didn’t think of those things until later that night, (and) all I remember thinking was ‘f—, what have I done?’” she said. “The ride home, the adrenaline of it, the excitement of it. It wasn’t until the first night that it really hit me.”

While foster children's stories are different, something many of them have in common is a very limited family and support system, said Leslie Griffith, a mentor to several former foster youth and an adult supporter of the Santa Clara County chapter of California Youth Connection, a former-foster-youth-led organization aimed at changing the system legislatively.

“We have a lot (of foster youth) that may not be homeless when they first leave, but will be at some point in their adult life,” Griffith said. “There’s a lack of resources for housing and emotional support. A lot of them don’t have that one person to go to for help.”
In 2010, 5,400 foster youth turned 18 and aged out of the foster system in America — 3,500 of whom became homeless soon afterward, Beall said.

“For a lot of foster kids, they aren’t (counted as being) homeless but they couch surf, or go from home to home,” Beall said. After running away, the former foster youth said that she couch surfed on and off until she turned 18.

“I stayed with friends," she said. "We bounced around a lot, sleeping on their couches, staying as long as their parents would let me stay. When they would ask when I was going home, I’d just move on.”

Referring to her peers in foster care, she said, “With all of us it’s really similar. Being emancipated at 18 was hard, finding a job was hard, really the first couple of years on our own was hard.”

Carolyn Glogoski, associate professor of occupational therapy at SJSU and an expert on the topic of homelessness, said that homelessness among former foster youth “is an ongoing problem.” As an attempt to remedy the situation, legislation was passed two years ago that extends foster care to age 21 with conditional stipends for pursuing a higher education, working a full-time job or going through a job-training program.

According to Beall, AB 12, written by himself, gives foster youth “a little more time.” “Most people realize that 18 is too young to be out on your own,” Beall said. “If you don’t have programs for these kids, there are just going to be more problems.”

Adrian Randall, a first semester transfer student majoring in business marketing, heard about the hardships of foster care firsthand from his father and grandmother who were both in the system when they were younger. While he didn’t want to get into specifics, Randall said that he thinks releasing foster kids into the world at 18 “is a big problem that doesn’t really have a lot of answers.”

At SJSU there is a scholarship program called Guardian Scholars that is specifically designed to help former foster youth through college with access to free tutoring, emotional and academic support as well as emergency funding for food or housing should the need arise.

Rhonda Leiva, interim assistant director of Guardian Scholars, named housing as the biggest issue the students in Guardian Scholars face because “it’s now their sole responsibility.” 

College is scary for any student, and then when you’re a foster youth you don’t always have that emotional support of people telling you that, you can do it. "You can go to college." Leiva said.

Griffith said that losing a job can pose a bigger problem. “Everyday experiences are exacerbated for these youth,” Griffith said. “It’s not uncommon for a young person to lose a job, but when former foster youth lose a job they don’t have a lot of options.”

While none of the 50 Guardian Scholars are homeless at this time, many have been homeless previously, according to Leiva. “They’re a general population,” said Leiva, “They face the same struggles as all college students, sometimes they just face a few more because of what they’re dealing with.”

These 12-Year-Old Children Are NOT Being Protected

County Foster Kids Recruited as Child Prostitutes 
Wride, Nancy, Long Beach Patch, 11/28/12.

A chilling report says foster children averaging 12-years-old are being recruited from group homes for sex trade. The average life expectancy for these child prostitutes is 18. 

Some children in the county's foster care system are being recruited as child prostitutes from emergency shelters or group homes, members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors acknowledged Tuesday.

And of youth arrested on prostitution charges in Los Angeles County, a majority comes from the county's foster care system, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing county officials.

The newspaper said that, according to the county, "in some cases, pimps use underage sex workers to recruit fellow group home residents." 

"`The average age of entry into prostitution is 12 years old, and the average life expectancy following entry is seven years,'' said Supervisor Michael Antonovich, citing sources from the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI. How youth in county foster care, particularly in the emergency shelter, would be able to leave the shelter was not immediately clear.

But as the accompanying video shows, the typical approach to young girls is to shower them with attention gifts, and a recruiter or pimp can earn up to $140,000 per child. The issue of foster children being ensnared into the sex trade is not only a local problem.

 The National Foster Care Coalition is seeking $5 million to counter the preying on vulnerable foster children, who have double the rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as do veterans, according to the coalition. Proposition 35, approved by voters earlier this month, increases prison terms for human traffickers, requires convicted traffickers to register as sex offenders, mandates training for law enforcement officers and requires criminal fines to help victims. 

Supervisor Knabe has also backed initiatives by the county's Probation Department to fight child prostitution and thrown his support behind an ad campaign designed to raise awareness of the issue.

But Antonovich said he was especially concerned about children in the county's foster care system. "These children often come from broken homes with a history of neglect and abuse, and foster children often overlap with runaway and homeless youth with a lack of resources that makes them more vulnerable," Antonovich said.

In 2010, 174 children under the age of 18 were arrested for prostitution-related crimes in the county, according to Antonovich. The accompanying video says they are all girls. He said pimps were recruiting foster care children at the DCFS emergency center and from group homes across the county. 

 The board directed the Department of Children and Family Services to collaborate with the Probation Department, District Attorney's Office, Sheriff's Department, other law enforcement agencies and the Department of Mental Health to find additional ways to combat the problem.

In the YouTube with this story, which was made as part of an anti-child-sex-trade ad campaign, an L.A. County Sheriff's deputy named Jeff said: "It's a whole new level of depravity when some guy says, 'You know what? I got a job for you .... and walks her into this life." The deputy tells the videographer that 98% of juveniles in the sex trade have pimps."

What do the young people think? What do the young people need? It's about more than the money, or shifting responsibility from one department to the other.

Many teen prostitutes come from foster homes, L.A. County officials say 
L.A. Times, 11/28/12.

L.A. County officials say prostitution is a serious problem in the foster-care system.

A majority of juveniles arrested on prostitution charges in the county come from foster care, and, in some cases, pimps use underage sex workers to recruit fellow group home residents, county officials said.

Until now, foster youth caught in the sex trade have largely been the responsibility of the county Probation Department.

 The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to launch a multiagency task force to address the ongoing issue of sex trafficking involving youth in the foster care system. The move was spurred in part by this month's passage of an anti-sex-trafficking ballot measure, which county officials said will shift much of the responsibility for juvenile prostitutes from the criminal justice system to the foster care system.

Of the 174 juveniles arrested on prostitution-related charges in Los Angeles County in 2010, 59% were in the foster care system, according to Probation Department data.

The department has launched initiatives to address the issue of sex trafficking, including running prevention workshops in juvenile halls.

 But underage sex workers may no longer fall under the Probation Department's jurisdiction. Proposition 35, which imposes tougher penalties on pimps, also includes language that decriminalizes prostitution for minors caught up in the trade — although there is debate about the effects of that change.

But officials fear that greater numbers of young people involved in prostitution will become the responsibility of the county Department of Children and Family Services. Department director Philip Browning said his agency was "really unprepared at this point" to handle such an influx. Browning and others said the department was not empowered to keep children in group homes and other placements against their will and can't prevent them from running away.

 Emilio I. Mendoza, a children services' program manager, said many young sex workers fear they will be punished by their pimps if they don't leave foster homes when they have an opportunity do so.

"These kids see themselves as having no way out unless they're in a secure setting," he said.

Probation camps and juvenile halls provide that security. But advocates say the criminal justice system is not the proper setting for young victims of abuse and coercion.