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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: