Editor’s Note: This is the last of a three-part series looking at life in California’s foster care system for both foster children and foster parents. All names of foster youth or former foster youth have been changed to protect identities.
In today’s society, when 45 percent of college students move back in with their parents after graduation, you’d be hard pressed to find a young adult who is prepared to be completely independent, without any emotional or financial support from his or her parents.
But for foster youth aging out of the court’s care, the expectations are different. By age 21, a foster youth is cut off financially and expected to independently balance all aspects of adult living – finding a job, paying for a place to live, learning to manage money, among many other tasks.
Prior to 2010, these same expectations were placed on 18 year olds aging out of foster care. However, thanks to California’s AB12, the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, foster youth can now remain dependents of the court past the age of 18. This doesn’t mean they will continue living with their foster family, but it does allow them to access support services funded by the state.
Currently, foster youth can remain in foster care up to age 20; come Jan. 1, 2014, they will be able to remain in foster care until they are 21 years old.
It’s not difficult to see why legislators took action to aid foster youth. According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, nearly 25 percent of the youth who aged out over the past decade did not receive a high school diploma or the equivalent degree. Additionally, 50 percent were involved in substance abuse, and nearly 40 percent had been homeless at some point.
This is all too true for Angie, a former foster child from 1990 to 2003, who said that the majority of the foster children she knew growing up are either dead or in jail. “Literally all of my foster sisters had babies who ended up in foster homes themselves,” she explained. “I’m not aware of any foster siblings of mine who are actually doing well. It’s very sad.”
She thinks more needs to be done to support this vulnerable demographic. “I would like to see more support for young adults as they age out of the system. Some of them know nothing about credit, how to fill out job applications, how to apply for an apartment, etc.,” she said.
She also believes that easier access to education would drastically change the lives of foster kids aging out of the system. “More scholarships for college would be great as well, for those who choose to go to college. I never got to finish my education because I couldn’t afford to go to school and afford a place in the city at the same time,” she said.
Times are changing, however. Since Angie aged out of foster care in 2003, organizations like VOICES, a local resource for emancipated youth, have become more common.
VOICES Sonoma County helps youth aging out of foster care by providing resources in the form of health, employment, education and independent living assistance.