Easing the transition from foster care

There’s a bill on the governor’s desk that will make a big difference for young Californians nearing the end of foster care. It’s Assembly Bill 12 and it raises the age youth in California’s foster care system can receive support from age 18 to 21.

Each year in California, over 5,000 youth are forced to exit foster care when they turn 18 and are no longer eligible for services. These young people were removed from their families due to abuse and neglect. At age 18, they are dumped out into the street with little or no direction.

Without a family to guide and support them, youth who “age out” of California’s foster care system don’t do well: fifty percent will become homeless or end up in jail. Others will go on to be unemployed, fail to graduate high school and suffer poor health.

Should we be surprised?

Most young people aren’t economically self-sufficient at age 18. Instead, they live at home with their families and receive economic support to an average age of 26.

Even in normal times it is difficult for young people, much less during today’s tough economy. As we all know, there are fewer and fewer jobs to employ our young people.

The jobs that remain aren’t going to young workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of unemployment for youth age 16 to 24 reached 51.1 percent in August 2010, the highest rate since 1948, when the bureau started tracking the data.

AB 12’s approach is one that has been carefully evaluated and found to be effective. In short, youth who agree to meet common-sense requirements, such as participation in school and work, are able to continue to live with their foster parent, or other foster care placement. According to a five-year longitudinal study by Professor Mark Courtney at the University of Washington, youth who are allowed to remain in foster care past 18 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 have a substance abuse problem and more than half as likely to have been incarcerated than those who were forced to exit at age 18.
Fortunately, AB 12 accomplishes this without adding any financial burden to the state. Thanks to federal legislation passed by Congress in 2008, and signed by President George W. Bush, if a state extends foster care support to age 21, the federal government will pick up half the cost. AB 12 also converts California’s guardianship program into a newly available federal program to pay the other half, too. The final piece of the puzzle is California’s transitional housing program for former foster youth. AB 12 will leverage these state-only dollars, making our current state investment go farther.

In fact, AB 12 will save California money by reducing incarceration and helping young in foster care get the education they need to succeed in today’s economy. A 2009 study bore this out: For every $1 invested in extending foster care past age 18, the State of California would save $2.41 return on avoided costs.

That’s why AB 12 is supported by law enforcement, judges, unions, churches and business leaders alike. We urge you to join them by contacting the governor to express your support for AB 12.

The bottom line is that AB 12 will end up saving California money in the long run and saving kids’ lives. Governor Schwarzenegger should sign AB 12.

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