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TRANSITIONAL ASSISTANCE FOR AGING-OUT FOSTER CHILDREN

Subject of Investigation

Problems faced by foster children who "age-out" of foster care without adequate support and preparation for initial independence.

Reason for Investigation

The matter came before the Grand Jury as a result of information from various sources indicating that there are problems related to the lack of adequate support and preparation for older foster children who "age-out" of foster homes.

Method of Investigation

Members of the 2000-2001 Grand Jury evaluating the foster care programs reviewed various media accounts and received written and oral information from staff of the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services and several organizations representing the interests of children in foster placements such as the Lilliput Children's Services, the Child Abuse Council, and Casey Great Start Program.

Background

In 1999, according to the County Foster Care Planning Unit, out of 4,718 foster care placements, there were 275 foster children between the ages of 17 and 19 who were emancipating within one year, and 1,229 who were 13 years of age or older. In 2000, the number of those between 17 and 19 years of age increased 30% to 358, and the number who were 13 years of age or older increased over 40% to 1,740. These increases have occurred primarily as a result of a change in philosophy by Child Protective Services, which pursues the primary safety of a child in lieu of the previous philosophy, which encouraged "family preservation" and "family reunification".

Foster care payments to foster parents end upon youths' graduation while they are 17; or after age 18 and until graduation, if the foster children have a likelihood of graduating from high school; or at age 19, even if they still are in high school. A limited foster care program resource, the federally-funded Independent Living Program ("ILP"), provides some pre-emancipation assistance for some foster children, but most receive limited support and preparation for becoming "independent" overnight, even if they are not 18 years old, and even if they do not have jobs, training, transportation, money management skills, and other necessities usually available to birth children from their parents. Many are forced to leave their foster homes immediately upon cessation of foster payments.

As a result, many foster youth are emancipated or "aged-out" without adequate continuing financial, social, medical, or other support. According to one source, over 50% cannot complete high school or a GED before being aged-out, which limits their opportunities. A common result of the confluence of these problems is teen homelessness, unemployment, pregnancy, substance abuse, incarceration for crimes, and other dysfunctional behavior.

The ILP has restrictions, including limitations on its federally-funded services to serving youths aged only 16 to 21, even though this often is too little and too late to be of significant assistance. Most ILP activity is "teaching"; however, "living" creates many more intangible problems than presented in the course curricula. Also, lessons are not equivalent to life experience, either in a controlled environment or during transitional housing with supportive services.

Sacramento County, through the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA) and the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) received funding for a pilot program to assist foster care providers and youths to prepare foster youths for emancipation. Initial funding has been received from severalsources and allocated for counseling, life skills programs, employment and housing seed funds.

These programs reach a limited number of the aging-out foster youth, and also do not start early enough to reach those who drop out of school at earlier ages and thus drop out of foster care. In addition, there are limited jobs for emancipated foster youth, especially those under 18, and extremely limited housing opportunities.

Conclusions

    1. A significant number of foster youth are leaving foster care with inadequate education, skills and resources to avoid becoming homeless, unemployed, or otherwise dysfunctional, because there are limited resources available to both train and prepare them for life after emancipation. Additional county funding could prevent many of these dysfunctions and could avoid higher social and financial costs after emancipation for General Assistance, law enforcement processing, medical care, and other consequences of poor preparation.

    2. Sacramento County and the cities in the County operate few programs to provide special services and resources to aged-out youth, except for initial assistance for transitional housing and some counseling. These programs are insufficient to assist aged-out youth to transition to adulthood, employment, and responsible membership in the community.

    3. The significant increase in the number of children aging out from foster care is a result of the increased number being removed from their parents' homes. It may be an appropriate time to review the positive and negative consequences of the recent policy shift from "family preservation" to "best interests of the child", and evaluate whether the fragmented and inadequate foster home situation is really an improvement over a system which provides benefits to enhance family preservation and reunification. New funding, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), is available to use for family improvement, which might alleviate the strain on the foster family funding. Other states, such as Illinois, have revisited this policy and have allocated new resources to family preservation and reunification.

Findings and Recommendations

Finding # 1. There is a crucial need for county-funded and county-assisted services for foster youth, ages 13 or higher, to provide "life training" so that these youth are prepared for post-emancipation life in the community, on jobs, and generally in society.

Recommendation # 1. Sacramento County should develop and fund new programs to prepare aging-out foster youth for life after emancipation, providing both assistance and training including, but not limited to:

    a. Within the Foster Care program, train staff to help teenage foster youth to develop transition plans, beginning no later than age 13, and then include monitoring of progress in those plans as part of the case management visitations. Include assessments of readiness and identification of needs for additional training or assistance.

    b. Develop an "emancipation guide" for foster youth who are 14 or older which provides basic legal rights and obligations.

    c. Provide training to foster parents to prepare foster youth for life after emancipation, such as teaching basic life skills (clothes washing, money management, cooking, etc.).

Finding #2. County and city resources and influence should be used to improve opportunities for jobs, affordable and decent housing units, and other critical necessities of life for aged-out foster youth.
Recommendation #2. The County and the cities in Sacramento County should continue to seek means of providing or enhancing necessary services and benefits for aged-out foster youth, by all reasonable means available, such as:

    a. Provisions in publicly-funded contracts requiring that aged-out foster youth are recruited and given a reasonable opportunity to compete for jobs for which they are prepared or in which they can be trained.

    b. In sponsoring or funding employment assessment and job training programs, to provide aged-out foster youth with an opportunity to participate in and be recruited for these programs.

    c. Make opportunities for safe and affordable housing available to agedout foster youth by providing rent subsidies through SHRA and providing funds to develop affordable and service-enriched group homes and transitional housing from tax increment funds or federal funds. In addition, consideration should be given to eliminating zoning restrictions which discourage boarding houses and room-and-board facilities where persons such as emancipated young adults can live together with minimal supervision and support as they transition to full independence.

    d. Identify other critical necessities not currently offered or funded, and establish priorities for funding. Outstanding needs include adequate transportation (through bus passes or shuttle vans), scholarships for school fees and books, etc.

Finding #3. The 40% increase in the number of older children in foster care is due, in significant part, to changes in the policy and practice that placed children's interests and safety over family preservation and reunification. The long-term impacts of this change in policy and practice on children, birth parents, and foster parents, as well as community institutions such as schools and health care facilities, have not been reviewed by an objective evaluator since its inception in order to determine whether the child protection system as currently structured really serves the children's best interests.
Recommendation #3.

    a. The Department of Health and Human Services should seek and allocate funding for an independent evaluation, including input from law enforcement and social welfare professionals, child advocates, foster and birth parents, community residents, teachers and school officials, and other interested parties, in order to determine whether the current policy and practice of placing children's interests and safety over family preservation and reunification serves the best interests of the children and the community.

    b. The Department should seek and allocate funding, in coordination with other programs to increase the ability of families to correct dysfunctions and retain their children. These could be funds from the General Fund, resources from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families block grants, and federal Community Development Block Grants for home repairs and rehabilitation to improve living situations which otherwise cause unsafe and unhealthy conditions.

Response Required

Penal Code Section 933.05 requires that specific responses to both the findings and recommendations contained in this Report be submitted to the Presiding Judge of the Sacramento Superior Court by September 30, 2001, from:

· Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services: Recommendations 1, 2, and 3
· City Managers of Sacramento, Galt, Elk Grove, Folsom, and Citrus Heights: Recommendation 2


 
2000/2001 Sacramento County Grand Jury - Final Report (Internet Version) June 30, 2001

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