Foster children in California now have the option to receive benefits beyond their 18th birthday, and a new mentorship program by Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is offering support in their transition to adulthood.
“There’s a miss in our culture that we should be able to be on our own at 18. How often does that really happen?” said Teresa Tardiff, executive director of CASA, which has spent more than 20 years working with neglected children and minors in the local court system.
Before the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, or AB 12, took effect last year, foster youth turning 18 would suddenly find themselves on their own—often bereft of family or social networks that are so helpful to gain employment, housing, and steady footing as an independent adult.
Twenty percent suffer from post traumatic stress disorder; 65 percent will leave foster care without a place to live; 40 percent will be homeless within 18 months; and 20 percent will be incarcerated—according to statistics provided by CASA.
The recent legislation allows young adults to “opt-in” to foster benefits until their 21st birthday. There are currently 42 such “non-minor dependents,” as the court defines them, in San Luis Obispo County, according to the Department of Social Services.
The young adults will continue to work with a social worker and receive a housing stipend, educational and employment training, and other services.
And Judge Hurst will be able to assign a mentor to young adults who want one.
“Because they have limited adult social role models—the more role models they have, the better,” said Judge Linda Hurst of the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.
A mentor will offer, “We go walk on the beach and talk about life. I will go with you to your school advisor appointment, if you need me to,” Hurst explained.
The mentor also has access to confidential information about medical issues and educational challenges that can be used to assist the young adults.
As a judge, Hurst can order minors to take needed medication. But as adults, non-minor dependents can choose not to. A mentor might help their mentee understand the implications of that decision.
The young adults remain eligible for assistance by working or attending school at least part-time, or participating in a program that prepares them for work or school.
“Statistics show that, with support, we keep kids off the street, out of mental health facilities,” Hurst said.
CASA has obtained a $44,000 grant from a combination of county, local and federal funds to implement the program, and is looking for caring, flexible, open-minded people from across the county to serve as mentors.
Mentors should be over the age of 25, able to pass a background check and provide references, and willing to make a one-year commitment to a non-minor adult.
The first training will take place in September. Interested applicants should visit www.slocasa.org or call 541-6542.
“Fifteen to 25 youth a year can benefit from this program, assuming we get the mentors,” Tardiff said.