Support youth leaving foster care

February 27, 2013 

For most young people, turning 18 is usually a time for celebration. Unfortunately for foster youth, that milestone often means having to abruptly face adulthood. Until recently, when foster youth turned 18, they emancipated out of the foster care system and overnight found themselves on their own.

In the United States, many young people are not financially independent of their parents until age 26. It takes most young people until their mid-20s to acquire the education, employment, financial literacy and daily living skills needed to function on their own.

Foster care was established as a system of temporary care, and every year in California nearly 4,000 youth emancipate or age-out from the foster care system. Some children are in foster care for a short time, while others spend many years of their childhood in care.

Once a child is in foster care, the foster care system becomes her or his family. The child welfare system is responsible for raising these children, and providing them a structure of support and care where learning and life momentum can take root.

The foster care system has both the obligation and the capacity to ensure that basic needs — food, shelter and safety — of all youth in care are met. This system is not designed, however, to offer the full scope of ongoing familial support that allows humans to succeed.

The most influential and critical aspect of a young person’s life is his or her connection to family and other supportive adults. Permanency is the biggest need for all youth in foster care — especially for young adults leaving foster care.

Permanency does not mean a foster care placement. Permanency is a relationship that consists of unconditional commitment and love that an adult and a young person share for a lifetime. Foster youth need encouragement, love and commitment from adults outside of systems and agencies.

Today, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., Cuesta College will host Stepping Up for Emancipating Foster Youth, a public forum in Room 5401 of the Student Center where the community can hear foster youth relate their experiences in foster care and post-emancipation. The forum will also discuss how community members can support foster youth.

We urge you to attend. Please join San Luis Obispo County in making a commitment to foster youth by discovering ways that you can support emancipated foster youth.

Katie Robinson is coordinator of the Independent Living Program that serves foster youth of San Luis Obispo County. Matthew Green is director of Cuesta College’s Workforce Economic Development Community Programs. Tracy Schiro is the assistant deputy director of the county’s Department of Social Services.

MORE INFORMATION

Stepping Up for Emancipating Foster Youth will feature Tracy Schiro, assistant director of the Department of Social Services, and two panel discussions. The first will include Cuesta and Cal Poly students, all emancipated from foster care, followed by a group made up of Katie Robinson, coordinator of the Independent Living Program, social worker Holly Prieto and Vanessa Diffenbaugh, author of “The Language of Flowers.” For more information, call Elle San Juan at 781-1920 or email esanjuan@co.slo.ca.us.

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