Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Foster youths need our support

There was a time in the history of the Family Care Network when youth exiting the foster care system were treated like trash — essentially thrown away.

I vividly remember one instance involving a teenage girl in our care from Santa Clara County who aged out of the foster care system. My staff was instructed by her county worker to pull her from the family with whom she lived through her high school years and return her to San Jose. When she arrived at the Social Services office, she was loaded on a bus and driven to the homeless shelter.

At the time, this was common practice throughout California. Fortunately for this girl, her foster mom was appalled by this type of abuse and took her back into her home until she could move in with her older brother. However, most foster youth were not so fortunate. These abused and neglected youth were routinely sent packing with no resources, skills, connections, permanency or safety net for support.

Not surprising, for decades the outcomes for former foster youth were deplorable and unconscionable. Several years ago, the Anne E. Casey Foundation released a summary from multiple studies on former foster youth. What would you think if this was your child or relative?

Fifty-six percent of young adults accessing federally-funded homeless shelters were former foster youth; 46 percent failed to complete high school; 51 percent were unemployed four years after leaving foster care; the median annual income of former foster youth two years after leaving the system was $4,478; 47 percent of youth exiting foster care were receiving mental health services while in care with only 21 percent able to continue receiving these services after care; 44 percent of former foster youth report difficulty in receiving health care; 42 percent became parents within four years of leaving foster care; 41 percent reported being arrested as an adult; more than 30 percent reported selling drugs or prostituting to earn money; and less than 2 percent completed college.

Several years ago, it was reported that more than 65 percent of the California prison population had spent some time in foster care. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

About 15 years ago, bureaucrats began to wake up to the fact that the system was further abusing these vulnerable youth. Realistically, how many of us with well-adjusted children can honestly say that at 18 years old they were ready to live independently, without support, with any degree of success? Last year, it was reported that the average age for a young adult to finally “disconnect” from family support was 28 years old.

Not only did the system further traumatize victims of abuse and neglect, but at a huge taxpayer expense. It costs taxpayers $47,000 per year per inmate in the California prison system, in addition to the cost for the array of other public services required.

By way of contrast, the University of Washington study of former foster youth concluded that “compared with youth who exit foster care at age 18 without support, youth with support to age 21 are: two times more likely to be working toward completion of a high school diploma; three times more likely to be enrolled in college; two times less likely to experience a substance abuse problem; 20 percent less likely to be suffering a mental health disorder; 30 times more likely to be covered by health insurance; 65 percent less likely to have been arrested; and more than 50 percent less likely to have been incarcerated.”

In 1998, the Family Care Network was one of the first agencies in California to pursue and become licensed as a Transitional Housing Placement Provider. This program prepares foster youth exiting the system to do so with skills, resources, connections, permanency and a safety net. In 2004, we began providing the Transitional Housing Placement-Plus Program, serving former foster youth ages 18 to 24. Since then, we have served nearly 400 foster or former foster youth on the Central Coast with a 90 percent plus success rate.

This is one of the primary reasons I left my career in probation and started the Family Care Network;

I wanted desperately to implement programs that really benefit these vulnerable youth, successfully breaking the cycle of dependency on government systems through the development of individual life skills and a sense of pride and personal responsibility.

Unfortunately, if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gets his way, these kids will once again be trashed. The governor has proposed eliminating transitional housing and services programs for former foster youth to balance the budget.

The state can spend $30 million on office furniture, but can’t spend $30 million to promote the success of abused and neglected children. The state can spend $45 million on unnecessary vehicles while sending several thousand youth to homelessness and despair.

Schwarzenegger’s proposed cut to this program represents a minuscule savings to the deficit, a mere .18 percent, while long-term it will cost taxpayers much more. There is something horribly wrong with this set of priorities. It’s time to rise up and say “enough is enough.”

Please join the chorus of opposition to this draconian initiative. Call, e-mail or write Schwarzenegger, Assembly members Sam Blakeslee and Pedro Nava and state Sen. Abel Maldonado and ask them to keep funding the Transitional Housing Placement-Plus Program for former foster youth.

Jim Roberts is the executive director of the Family Care Network.