There are roughly 4,500 foster youth between the age of 18-21 in California who must figure out where their next meal is coming from and sometimes where they will sleep tonight. California Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) recently introduced legislation that would take newly available federal funds to help these kids from becoming another statistic. Here is what she has to say about why this issue is so important and the validity in expanding programs in a time when California may not be able to afford it.
Whenever you have an economic crisis, those who are the most vulnerable are always hit the hardest. You lose your home. You lose job and then you lose your children. If you're on the street and you can't take care of your kids, the county comes and gets them. The economic crisis alone exacerbates an already troubling situation. I have no doubt that more kids will be picked up and placed into foster care because their parents can't provide for them.
The major reason children are removed from their homes is due to neglect. When a parent can't provide for their family, foster care claims their kids. Since an overwhelming number of kids in foster care are African-American, this makes it our issue. The neglect is secondary to substance abuse. When men use drugs, the women take care of the kids. But when women use drugs, typically the family falls apart. Since the war on drugs, there are a lot more African American women in prison. These are our folks, our children, and our future. It is imperative that we step up our efforts to reach out to them.
If you're a child in the foster care system, the minute you hit 18 years old, you're essentially kicked out on the street. Within two years of ‘aging out', one in four former foster kids are incarcerated, one in five are homeless and by age 21, only half are employed. And if you are fortunate to get to college, you are still on your own. What happens when you need to see a doctor or when you have a school break? You have nowhere to go. If you are lucky, you may be one of 3 percent to actually earn a college degree. I introduced The California Fostering Connections to Success Act so that youth aging out of the system can obtain housing and supportive services like job training and healthcare until the age of 21. This legislation (which is expected to pass with bipartisan cooperation and be enacted in October 2010) allows California access to up to $70 million in federal dollars so that the state may offer financial help to foster care kin and fund non-profit community organizations to manage housing and supervise emancipated young adults.
In a traditional family, you prepare your children to be independent by teaching them how to use a bank, pay bills, and take care of themselves. Children in the foster care system are our extended family and we need to prepare them be productive adults. Without such intervention and encouragement, foster care youth face difficult challenges and harsh realities. We owe it to them to give them the best opportunity to succeed.