"Each year, more than 20,000 youth age out of the foster care system and lose their safety nets overnight," according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2015). There are only 25 states with extended foster care services for older youth (ages 18 to 21). According to a report from the federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, 13,316 youth in the U.S. utilized extended services in 2016. And the California Child Welfare Project from Berkeley reported that California had 7,192 youth in extended services in 2018.
The homeless population is tough to ignore in California. It hits us square in the eye almost every day, depending on which direction you are heading. This includes our aged-out foster care youth who have reached the maximum age of 21, and have lost the support of a foster home or independent-living housing arrangements due to services ending.
Imagine an aged-out foster care youth with a heavy backpack on; jobless; with a lack of family support; empty pockets; and at high risk of suffering from a mental illness, acute trauma, and/or substance abuse with delays in self-sufficiency without the continued guidance and support by mental health professionals and the local community at large.
The local community needs to discuss and recognize that this is a national problem that needs to be understood and solved: Aged-out foster care youth are at a high risk of being homeless, and there is a need to extend services and funds to increase independent living. Contacting the state governor and state legislators, along with showing support through media sources to raise community and national awareness can bring this issue to the forefront.
Assembly Bill 12 (2010), the Fostering Connections to Success Act, extended independent living programs to aged-out foster care youth up to the of age 21. The independent living program is a federally funded program that assists current and former foster care youth (ages 16 to 21) to achieve effective self-sufficiency outside of the foster care system.
AB 12 opened the door for older foster care youth to extended services up to age 21. After seven years, we finally get a bigger picture that aged-out foster care youth with higher needs will greatly benefit from these extended services. They can get what they need in order to survive and thrive in society, despite being over 21.
Amending AB 12 to further extend foster care services will prevent homelessness for those suffering from serious mental illness and/or trauma conditions due to childhood physical and emotional abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, human trafficking, and other social and environmental abuses. No youth ought to bear and carry over trauma into adulthood without the support of extended services to continue to protect, guide, and mentor youth about how to navigate and develop lifelong living skills that may not happen right at the young age of 21.
Providing foster care youth with extended services not only teaches foster care youth with lifelong living skills, it reflects human dignity that all human beings are worthy to be loved and accepted, which in turn will benefit society as a whole. Δ
Kandie Brown is a graduate student studying social work at Our Lady of the Lake University, who works with children and families on the Central Coast. Send your thoughts in a letter to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.