So many of these children are ending up in the Criminal Justice system…..we are failing these at risk kids, prevention, intervention and education are the keys….
Steven Navarrette was nearly 18 when he became homeless.
The now-20-year-old was a foster child who had no one to turn to after being forced out of the child welfare system.
“My mom made it very clear she didn’t want me and couldn’t take care of me. I didn’t have a place to live. I was homeless,” he said.
Navarrette’s case isn’t unique.
The state foster care system has been criticized for high rates of homelessness and incarceration among former foster children. Studies show roughly 20 percent of youths become homeless and 40 percent get arrested or go to prison after aging out of the system at 18.
But currently the state doesn’t keep data about how many live on the streets or go to prison, according to DCFS and state prison officials. Critics said the state can’t address a problem it doesn’t monitor.
“Any type of organization has to know the effect of its programming to improve or adjust it,” said Amy Lemley, policy director for John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes. “To date we’ve largely been flying blind.”
An L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services official said child welfare workers are aware of trends but have no authority over foster children once they’re adults.
“While they’re with us as youths, that’s generally the length of time we maintain legal jurisdiction,” said Harvey Kawasaki, youth development services division chief for DCFS. “The problem is once they
“Data is important, but with some of the things these young people are dealing with, homelessness is a predictable outcome,” said Elizabeth Calvin, senior advocate for international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch.
Calvin authored a 70-page study detailing the plight of California’s former foster children who became homeless upon emancipation.
The study found that the state is aware of the rampant homelessness in former foster children but fails to prepare them to live on their own.
The vast majority of the former foster youths she encountered said they had no source of income when they aged out of the system and no adult to turn to, she said.
“What we need is a system that is going to ensure that young people are supported as they enter early adulthood, just like most people from intact homes are supported,” Calvin said.
There could be signs of improvement on the horizon, some said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed into law AB 12, allowing foster children to remain in their placements until the age of 21.
And if states are pressured to implement the new federal regulation well, better data collection on post-foster-care youths could be possible, Lemley said.
But AB 12 doesn’t go into effect until 2012, meaning foster children who age out this year or next are at risk of being homeless, Lemley said.
Experts estimate, about 800 of the 4,000 California foster children who turn 18 every year go homeless. While the system provides transitional housing, need far outweighs supply.
Only one in five of emancipating foster children who face imminent homelessness have access to state-funded housing, Lemley said.
Problems facing foster children come down to funding and prioritizing, she said.
The state is facing a $19 billion budget shortfall and shortly after signing AB 12 into law, Schwarzenegger cut millions from the child welfare system.
“This is a public system that’s dramatically overburdened,” Lemley said. “They have to prioritize where they put their effort.”
When even frontline services like removing children from abusive or dangerous situations are sometimes neglected, other aspects of foster care are placed on the back burner.
But Calvin said when the state takes custody of children it takes on the role of parent. And besides sheltering and feeding youngsters, parents play a key role in preparing them for independence and supporting them as they strike out on their own.