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Illustration by Sam Landsberg, 17, Hamilton HS

I recently got together with three other foster youth to talk about our futures. When you’re in the foster care system and you turn 18, you’re on your own. It’s called emancipating. The system believes you’re grown up and you don’t need any more help. But we do. Some of us don’t have families so we need the system to help us.

The people at the discussion who were already on their own talked about how they were in transitional housing. You live in an apartment with a roommate and the system pays for it. I thought, “That’s cool, the system is still helping you out.” I think it would be cool to live by yourself and be more responsible, but you’d still have support.

But not everyone gets into housing. I’ve heard about foster youth becoming homeless after they leave the system. One of my friends who was in foster care was homeless for a month. You have to sign up for transitional housing, so maybe she didn’t know about it.

It’s hard being in the system. You have to do everything yourself if you’re going to make it. I have to make sure I tell my social worker that I need my monthly bus pass so I have a way to get to school. My social worker does everything he needs to do but I know people who don’t see their social workers regularly.

I’ve been in foster care since I was 6 years old. I’m about to turn 18. I need support so I can get to where I want to be in life. I’ll need a place to live when I get out of the system. I need money and scholarships for college so I can get a good education. I want to study sociology or psychology. I want to be a social worker or a counselor because I want to help people.
Keisha Solis, 17, Animo Locke HS #3


The following are selected comments from Keisha and three other foster youth, at a discussion organized by L.A. Youth.

Clockwise from upper left: Keisha Solis, 17, Animo Locke HS #3; Brandon Cherry, 23, Cal State L.A.; Marisa Rodriguez, 18, Maywood Academy HS (2010 graduate); James Allen, 15, Manual Arts HS

L.A. Youth Editor Amanda Riddle: Have you thought about emancipating and your plans for the future? Do you feel like the system has been helping you get ready to be on your own?

Keisha Solis, 17, Animo Locke HS #3: I’m in 11th grade. I’m kind of scared for when I get out of high school, where I’m going to be. I don’t want the system to forget about me when I’m 18 because I’m still going to be needing help—college help, scholarships, trying to make it on my own.

James Allen, 15, Manual Arts HS: I’m scared for when I graduate. When I’m 18 I will get transitional housing [an apartment for former foster youth that the system pays for] but I’m still scared to live on my own. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know where to go in life. I’m thinking of going to college. I don’t want to be out there on the streets. I want to get a good education because I know that I can make it in life.

Marisa Rodriguez, 18, Maywood Academy HS (2010 graduate): I just turned 18. When I entered the system at 14, I didn’t want to be in a foster home. I hated it. They weren’t treating me good. I tried to find ways to get out of there. I found out about THPP [Transitional Housing Placement Program, where foster youth ages 16-18 live in apartments that the system pays for]. I was looking for independence but I found the complete opposite of that. I found support from the staff of my THPP program and now I don’t want to leave.

Amanda: How long are you able to stay there?

Marisa: Two years. I got in there when I was 16, so now is about my time [to leave]. Since I’m doing so well—I’m following the rules, I’m going to school and I have a job—they don’t want me to leave. But the people who want me to leave is the system, my social worker, they’re the ones that are pushing for me to go.

Amanda: What reason does your social worker give?

Marisa: You’re 18, you’ve gotta go.

Amanda: Do you feel your social worker has your best interests in mind?

Marisa: Not necessarily. She’s concerned more about herself because they’re telling her, “She’s already 18, you’ve gotta get her out of here.” She’s the one who’s in charge of me right now because she’s my social worker. So I understand where she’s coming from but she also has to understand what we need. We need that support because I don’t have my parents, I don’t have nobody to fall back on. That’s why I do need the system.

Amanda: Brandon, what was it like for you to go through the emancipation process?

Brandon Cherry, 23, Cal State L.A.: I went straight to college out of school. I lived in the dorms for a year. I really didn’t like the dorms because we had to move during the summer so it wasn’t permanent. So I applied for transitional housing and I got in and I was there for two years and did exceptional. After my two years it was time to go. So I was living on my own for the past 10 months. It’s kind of difficult right now. I’m staying with friends and I’m trying to find housing. I have a little over a year and a half left at Cal State L.A.

[A new law passed by the governor last fall allows foster youth to stay in foster care until age 21. The law goes into effect next year. It’s intended to provide support to foster youth as they become adults so they can be successful. Foster youth who stay in the system after age 18 are more likely to be in college and less likely to have been arrested, according to a University of Washington study.]

Amanda: A new law extends foster care to age 21. You can stay in your foster home, group home or transitional living program until age 21, as long as you’re in school, working or getting job training. Do you think that would help you?

Marisa: It’s a good thing and a bad thing because some kids are going to be thinking, “The government is going to be giving me money until I’m 21, I can just chill, kick back and do nothing.” But for those of us who do want to do something it would be good. But they have to have restrictions to make sure they’re doing something with their life.

Keisha: I think the law would be good too. When you’re 18 you’re still not standing on your own, you’re still growing.

James: I want to stay in the system until I’m 21 because I’m not ready to be on my own. I don’t even know what I want to do with my life. I barely know how to clean. Even though I want to go to college, I’m still trying to make my idea of where I’m going to go, what job am I going to have, how much money am I going to make so I can be stable, stuff like that. I think it is a good idea.

Like this story? To help ensure that Los Angeles County foster youth can continue having their voices heard, please donate to L.A. Youth.


Amanda: If the new law is going to be offering more support, what should it include?

Brandon: Having a mentor to guide you along the way, somebody you can go to for support.

Marisa: It’s about having people there. The staff from my program are very good. We have life skill classes every week. They teach us new things, like how to do grocery shopping, all that stuff. What we need are people there to help us because we don’t have our families. We want that love and support from other people.

Keisha: I think we need more scholarships. Probably because the economy is bad it’s harder to get scholarships now.

Amanda: There are high rates of foster youth not finishing high school, not going to college and ending up in jail, pregnant or homeless. It seems like if you have to be on your own at 18, life is going to be a lot harder. Do you feel like the system is helping you get ready to emancipate? Are you learning those life skills you’re going to need to know? James, has your social worker talked to you about that?

James: No she hasn’t talked to me at all.

Amanda: Have you heard of ILP [Independent Living Program] classes?

James: No.

Marisa: Those are very good, you’ll benefit a lot from it. In the classes they teach you how to fill out your FAFSA [a form to apply for federal financial aid], where to go to look for scholarships and grants, they teach you how to budget, how to look for an apartment, how to clean. We had a career counselor come. We got online and tried looking for the careers that fit us. And that was good for me because I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do.

Amanda: Is there a difference between taking the classes and being out in the real world?

Brandon: I was raised pretty well and I knew a lot of the things that they taught us. I enjoyed the classes, they were helpful. I did learn how to write a check. And budgeting. It was helpful.

I learned a lot but I would like them to go into greater detail and tell us the consequences. If you don’t budget your money, this is going to happen. We have to learn on our own. They just said, “Don’t spend more than you make.” I wish they had a class to teach you when you get your driver’s license, to encourage you to follow the rules because I lost my license recently and I had to get it back. To tell you the little things, like if you get a traffic ticket, don’t ignore it, go to court.

Marisa: Recently when I got my car, the staff in my program were there, asking, “Did you get your registration? Did you do this, did you do that?” I was like yes. I already knew how to do it but it was good that they were helping me and making sure that I did everything how it was supposed to be done. That’s what you need.

Amanda: I thought that was cool when you said you got into the program because you wanted independence but what you found was support.

Marisa: I really did. I wanted to be by myself but everyone was really supportive. It’s a really good program. THPP is great because you’re in an apartment by yourself. You can call the staff, they check up on you but you’re actually on your own. You have to go grocery shopping, budget, do your laundry. You’re doing it by yourself but in case something goes wrong you have somebody there.

Amanda: What can help foster youth be more successful?

Marisa: Educate the kids. My social worker only sees me once a month. I see her for maybe 30 minutes. Maybe if she would take her time and talk to me about things, about the programs we have, the funding that there is, if they would actually do their job.

Keisha: I have a good social worker. I only see him once a month but he calls me twice every week, trying to get me into a whole bunch of programs. Like HerShe, this program for girls that helps you with scholarships. People I know in group homes are about to be 17, 18 and they don’t have their birth certificates or social security cards so they can’t even get a job. I’ve had a good experience with a social worker but people I know need better social workers, social workers who actually care about the kids and want them to make something out of their life.

Brandon: I’d like to see improvements in the ILP classes, as far as the importance of maintaining a driver’s license and good credit. You need good credit. When you’re finished with transitional living you want to get an apartment and they do credit checks.