Thursday, July 8, 2010
Every year some 5,000 teenagers “age out” of foster care in California – the largest number of any state in the union, according to the state’s Child Welfare Services. This means the teens reach the age of 18 without being placed with a permanent family – they’re essentially booted out of the system. (The legal tem is “emancipate,” as in, “18-year-olds emancipate from foster care.”)
“Become homeless” may be more accurate. Of the kids that age out, 65 percent have nowhere to go, according to the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, and often end up homeless.
“Many are pushed into shelters like ours,” says Shelter Outreach Plus’ Preston Thymes. “The moment these kids turn 17, they get this feeling of dread and fear in their hearts because they know [when] they turn 18, their benefits will run out.”
Additionally, according to UC-Berkeley researchers, former foster youths are less likely to complete high school, attend college, or be employed than others of the same race and age. They are also at a higher risk of becoming homeless and arrested or incarcerated.
To counteract such conditions, Assemblyman Jim Beal (D-San Jose) has introduced AB 12, which taps available federal funding to help finance foster care benefits to age 21. The bill passed the Assembly unanimously earlier this year; the Senate Human Services Committee approved it June 10 and referred it to Senate Appropriations.
Beal originally introduced the bill last session. But it stalled in committee until the Obama administration issued new funding guidelines that made California’s state-financed kinship guardian program, Kin-GAP, eligible for federal matching dollars.
The new federal guidelines allow the state to use AB 12 to extend foster care benefits to age 21, which supporters say will help teens avoid homelessness and make it easier for them to continue their education beyond high school.
Linda Forkash supervises the county’s two I-Help emergency men’s shelters, one in Salinas and one on the Peninsula. She sees 18-year-olds enter the shelters; most, she says, have been raised in foster care.
“I’m a mother who raised two boys, and I know sometimes it takes a little time for them to find their way,” she says. “To put that whole responsibility for survival on an 18-year-old – how and where they’re going to live, how they’re going to eat – is very traumatic. We need to take better care of our youth.”