<< Foster youth in California are no longer on our own at 18

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L.A. Youth writer Precious Sims talked to Elizabeth Lott, the youth development specialist at the Alliance for Children’s Rights, about the new state law extending foster care to age 20. The law, called the California Fostering Connections to Success Act or AB 12, began Jan. 1, 2012. If you’re a foster youth with questions about the new law, go to www.after18ca.org.

L.A. Youth: Who is eligible? Elizabeth Lott: Young people who are turning 18 this year with an open case. It can apply to kids on probation if they don’t have parents to go home to and have been placed in foster care. In order to qualify you have to participate in one of five requirements:

  • Finishing high school
  • Enrolled at least half-time in community college, a four-year college or trade or certificate program
  • Participating in some sort of activity that helps alleviate barriers to unemployment, like workshops on resume writing
  • Having a part time job
  • If you’re unable to do any of the four because of a physical, mental or emotional impediment you will qualify with a doctor’s note

Can foster youth return to the system after they’ve left? Yes. They can choose to leave the system and try independence on their own. Unfortunately, statistics suggest that many are not successful on their own. If they run into repeat homelessness [and] unemployment, they can return to foster care.

How is this different from the transitional living program they already had? This really differs because it does offer housing for young people until the age of 20 as opposed to making them fend for themselves.

What if I want more freedom? There are elements of the bill that allow foster youth to have more freedom. There’s a new term that has been created to define this population. They’re called non-minor dependents (NMD) so that status signifies that they’re not minors anymore, they’re adults. The goal is to have them living in the least restrictive housing option for them. Group homes are extremely restrictive and would not be an ideal place for someone to practice being independent. There are two new housing options. The first is THP-Plus Foster Care. This transitional housing program could provide housing with support services in the building. You’re living in an apartment with a roommate but on site there’s a counselor who helps you with your education and career goals. This placement is not currently available. It’s been written into the law but it hasn’t been implemented yet.

The other housing option, which is available now, is a Supervised Independent Living Placement (SILP). It can be an apartment, a shared living space, you can rent a room from a friend, a dorm. If determined appropriate, that young person can actually collect the foster care payment themselves. Right now when you’re in foster care the caregivers receive the check for caring for them. A non-minor dependant could receive the check to care for themselves. The basic rate is $776 a month.

Are the rules going to be different if you stay in your foster home so you’re not treated like a kid? In theory yes. You can sit down with your social worker and work out a contract with your caregiver that determines what the new rules are as someone living in the household as an adult and not a child. Some caregivers will be really good about extending curfew, giving allowance, while others will not. They have a right to request a new placement.

How will they ensure that when you’re 20 and leaving the system, you’re prepared to be on your own? There has been a lot of effort to ensure that young people do really have the opportunity to “practice” being independent while in care, like living in a supervised independent living placement (SILP) or THP-Plus Foster Care. The hope is that they can be more self-sufficient at age 20. The reality is your brain also continues to develop into our 20s so the hope is that biologically they’re more ready to be independent than they were at 18. The average young person is dependent on their parents in some way until age 26. This system is not perfect but it’s the best we can do and it’s something we’re confident will make a difference.

What type of places can you live? All the placement options that currently exist, including group homes only until age 19. Homes of relatives, traditional foster family homes, college dorms, SILP and then THP-Plus Foster Care although they’re not ready yet.

What usually happens to foster youth? How many end up homeless? As many as 50 percent of youth who age out of foster care will experience homelessness within two years of emancipating. It’s often times couch surfing and sleeping in cars, it’s not just sleeping on the streets. Finding a job when you don’t have an address to give employers or access to the Internet—it’s so damaging to personal progress. AB 12 is going to provide housing to young people from 18 to 20 and housing is the number one challenge that former foster youth face. If housing is stable, I think that access to education will go up, that consistent employment will go up.

I feel like the system pays more attention to younger foster youth and not older ones. Fifteen hundred youth age out of L.A. County every year. These youth really do need extra attention because they’re on their own. That is why AB 12 was created, because the statistics are so horrible. The county should take responsibility for the outcome, just like parents are responsible for the outcomes of their children.