California: From Foster Children to Homeless Adults

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California: From Foster Children to Homeless Adults

State Fails to Prepare Foster Youth for Adulthood

LOS ANGELES - California is creating homeless adults by
failing to ensure that youth in foster care are given the support to
live independently as adults and by ending state support abruptly, Human
Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch said
that the state should provide financial support, connections with
adults, shelter, and other safety nets for young people as they make the
transition toward independence.  

The 70-page report, "My
So-Called Emancipation: From Foster Care to Homelessness for California
Youth,
" documents the struggles of foster care youth who become
homeless after turning 18, or "aging out" of the state's care, without
sufficient preparation or support for adulthood. California's foster
care system serves 65,000 children and youth, far more than any other
single state. Of the 4,000 who age out of the system each year, research
suggests, 20 percent or more become homeless.

"By failing to prepare youth in foster care for adulthood and cutting
them off from support abruptly as they become adults, California is
failing in its duty to these young people," said Elizabeth Calvin,
senior advocate for children's rights at Human Rights Watch and author
of the report. "These young people are capable of making the transition
successfully, but they cannot do it without the state's help."

This month the state is considering dramatic cuts to child welfare
services, which would eliminate an existing transitional living program,
over 400 social workers, and other programs for foster youth preparing
for adulthood.

"These proposed budget cuts would undermine foster youth's main
defense against living on the streets," Calvin said. "The state will
bear the costs of the predictable result - increased homelessness."

Most children enter foster care because abuse or neglect at home
triggers the duty of the state to step in and protect them. The state
becomes their parent and must ensure that children have adequate food,
clothing, shelter, health care, and education. But the responsibility to
provide the guidance and support necessary for children in foster care
to grow into independent adults is no less important, Human Rights Watch
said.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 63 young people who became homeless
after they left foster care in California. Their stories shed light on
the complex array of factors that led to their homelessness: missed
opportunities to learn skills, lack of ability to support themselves, a
shortage of second chances, and the fact that no one cared what happened
to them.

Of those interviewed, 65 percent had not graduated from high school
when they were forced out of state care; 90 percent had no source of
income. These young people were expected to survive on their own, though
the state had provided little training for adult living skills and was
providing no support during the transition. In these cases, homelessness
is a predictable outcome.

California state law requires child welfare agencies to develop, in
conjunction with each youth in foster care, an "emancipation plan" for
what the young adult will do when leaving foster care. But in practice,
plans are often not made or are unrealistic and unlikely to prevent a
youth from becoming homeless, Human Rights Watch said. Young people
described to Human Rights Watch emancipation plans that lacked
arrangements for housing or the income to afford it.

Human Rights Watch called on California to provide foster youth with a
variety of options as they make the transition to adulthood, like their
peers in family homes enjoy. These could include more time at home
before moving out on their own, or somewhere to stay for certain
periods, such as during college vacations.

The state should also maintain a spectrum of other options for
housing, mentoring, and support for former foster youth, including
transitional housing programs, mental health services, services for
those with learning disabilities, and services for pregnant and
parenting youth, Human Rights Watch said.

"The science of adolescent development shows that childhood does not
end abruptly at a certain age," Calvin said. "In most US families, young
people continue to receive a spectrum of support -  emotional and
financial - as they make the transition to adulthood, and the youth in
California's care deserve no less. "

 

Selected Testimony

The day I graduated from high school my foster mom told me, "You've
been emancipated. You can't live here anymore." My social worker showed
up - I was still in my little graduation dress and heels, my flowers, my
cap on. My social worker had never talked with me. [She just] told me,
"I've called around and found a shelter for you. You have a bed for four
months."

- Karen D., age 21, San Francisco.

On the day of my so-called emancipation, I didn't have a high school
diploma, a place to live, a job, nothing...The day I emancipated - it
was a happy day for me. But I didn't know what was in store. Now that
I'm on the streets, I honestly feel I would have been better off in an
abusive home with a father who beat me; at least he would have taught me
how to get a job and pay the bills.  

- Roberta E., age 24, Los Angeles

 "I wish I could have had ... someone to care about me ... like show
me how to separate the whites from the darks [for laundry.] I would have
hated it at the time, but I wish I'd had that. They never even asked
me, ‘Is something wrong? Talk to me."

- Nikki B., age 18, Sacramento

 "If you're going to put kids in group homes, in foster care - at
least give them what they need to survive and take care of themselves.
[When I aged out of care] I was expected to know how to get a job, buy a
car, all that stuff, but ... I didn't have any idea how to go about
doing things. So, I ended up on the street."

- Tony D., age 20, Berkeley

 

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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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