Foster youth in California are no longer on our own at 18
A week after I turned 18 last April my foster mom told me, “You know I don’t get paid for you anymore.” I thought, “OK, so you’re just taking care of me for the money.” I always felt that way. I know that she cared about our safety and our education because she always made sure me and the three other foster girls who lived there went to school and she was strict about us being out late. But when it came to money she was cheap. The previous Christmas I just got a Snuggie. Her grandkids got shoes, clothes and video games.
So when I heard about a new California law that lets youth stay in the foster care system until age 20 I thought it was good. Before the law, foster youth emancipated (aged out) at 18 and their foster parents no longer got paid to take care of them. I think my foster mom would have been nicer and let me stay if the law had already been in place.
Foster youth were considered adults at 18 but they have no experience living on their own. So a lot of former foster youth end up homeless. There are transitional living apartments for foster youth who emancipate. But the programs are so packed it’s hard for kids to get in. The new law will help keep foster kids from being homeless.
Social workers don’t prepare foster kids to be an adult. I asked my social worker to get my social security card and birth certificate. I wanted to get a California ID and you need an original birth certificate for that and I wanted to open a bank account and look for a job. She would say she had to get it from my file but she never brought it. She kept saying she was looking for it so I asked my mom and she mailed it to me. Foster parents don’t always help either and most foster youth don’t have biological parents to turn to for guidance. I didn’t have one-on-one time with my foster mom. She had to take other foster kids to appointments and in her spare time she made time for her family and herself.
I felt like it was a good law but more needed to be changed. The foster parents needed to stop being so controlling—they act like their house is a jail. I thought that staying until you’re 20 and still having those rules was not going to improve the homeless rate because kids were going to leave the system and not take advantage of the law. So I interviewed Elizabeth Lott at the Alliance for Children’s Rights to get more information on the new law.
Lott told me that you can stay in a college dorm, a group home or have an apartment with a roommate while still being in the system. If you’re in a dorm or apartment, you can get your own check so you can get the everyday things you need. When you’re under 18, the checks go to your foster parent and they spend it how they feel is best. Getting your own checks will help you get the feel for how it would be to be on your own without all the responsibilities thrown at you at once.
After the interview, I realized that the new law will prepare foster youth for independence while giving them more freedom. I think it’s a great opportunity.
The requirements are you have to either be going to college, working, attending a program to help you get job skills or finishing high school (or you can be excused from those requirements with a medical issue). I believe these rules are easy to follow and will definitely keep foster youth on the right track. They are making sure you are involved with things that will prepare you for the future.
But to qualify, you have to have been in the foster care system on Jan. 1, 2012. That makes no sense to me. I think the new law should allow foster youth to return to the system even if they have already left foster care. Lott said 1,500 foster youth age out of the county every year and as many as 50 percent will become homeless. If they applied the law to all foster youth under the age of 20, they could save more than a thousand kids from being homeless.
I’m no longer in the system because I got into a big argument with my foster mom. I wanted to have overnight visits with my family and friends since I was old enough but she told me I couldn’t. I thought it wasn’t fair so I left and my case was closed. Right now I’m couch surfing going from one house to the other: grandmother, girlfriend, friend, grandfather. I would have liked to get an apartment with a roommate. It would have been a lot of help. They would have given me money to take care of myself so I can get the things I need, like hygiene products, food and clothes, and still be able to pay rent. If I could return to the system, those things would help me a lot.
There’s more that needs to be done to make the system better. They need more social workers. Social workers need to spend more time helping teenagers transition into adulthood. Foster parents need to respect the fact that teenagers need more freedom. But this law is a good start—it will keep more foster youth off the street.