Foster youth can live in a variety of settings during their time in foster care and once they’ve aged out, including a foster home, group home, in kinship care, in reunification, with adoptive families or independently. As a result, they need continuous support in housing, employment, education and career development.
- The average length of time spent in foster care is 24 months or 2 years.
- Foster youth ages 16 to 25 are called Transitional Age Youth.
- Of the 33,000 youth in foster care, 2,500 emancipate or age out every year, putting them at risk.
After exiting care, ½ are homeless, 1/3 are unemployed and ¼ are incarcerated.
Foster youth living with a foster family
Living in a foster home means living with one or multiple foster parents. A foster parent or family, also known as a “Resource parent” is a family who opens their homes to children or teens who have been removed from their birth parents and provides temporary care. Foster parents are trained, supported, and paid by either government-run agencies or private foster family agencies.
Life in a foster home presents multiple benefits and challenges. In some situations, foster parents and the children they are fostering develop strong, family-like bonds. Foster children can become as close with their foster parents as they were with their birth parents–sometimes even closer. In other foster family living situations however, foster family-like relationships can be way more difficult to forge. In fact, some former foster children say they had foster parents who were primarily motivated by financial reimbursement and ultimately failed to provide a loving, supportive home for them.
Foster youth living in kinship care
Kinship care is when foster youth are placed in the care of other blood relatives, outside of their immediate families. Often considered the most desirable type of foster care placement for foster children, kinship care can mean placement with grandparents, aunt, uncles, and sometimes adult siblings. It’s common practice for social workers at child protective services agencies in Southern California to search for a child’s relatives for kinship placement, before exploring alternative arrangements. Today in Los Angeles County, there are currently 9,383 foster youth in kinship care, which represents 38% of the foster youth population. In addition, the LA Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has developed a special program that deploys social workers as detectives to track down long-lost family members.
Foster youth living in a group home
Another type of foster care placement is in a group home, also known as congregate care. A group home can range in size from housing a small number of youth to housing 100 or more foster youth at the same time. There are also group homes today which specifically specialize in caring for foster youth with medical and/or mental health care needs.
Recently, the effectiveness of group homes has been questioned by the State due to statewide reports of abuse, neglect, frequent overuse of behavior modification drugs, a lack of sufficient individual attention and other related challenges. As of January 2017, a new law will go into effect called Assembly Bill 403, which will dramatically change and reduce the use and operations of the group home. To find out more about AB 403, watch this video and read more about the area of law & policy in the foster care system.
Foster youth in reunification
Many foster youth who exit the foster care system before the age of 21 leave for two reasons: 1) they are reunited with their birth family, known as reunification, or placed with extended family (kinship care), or 2) they are adopted.
Regarding family reunification, it’s a complicated process. Soon after children are removed from their home, birth parents can start advocating for their parental rights and work towards regaining custody. Parents may be required to seek treatment for drugs or alcohol, enroll in anger management classes or take other actions to show a child dependency judge that they do not pose a threat to their children.
The ideal placement for foster children is with their birth family again, however sometimes birth parents are unable to fulfill these requirements, and family reunification is not an option. When that’s the case, child protective service agencies look to provide these children with permanency in another way, a temporary, safe foster home and ultimately adoption into a “forever family”.
Foster youth living with adoptive families
For foster parents, there are two paths to adoption: 1) They may decide to adopt a child they are fostering, or 2) they may continue to care for a child until another person or couple adopts. For foster children, their path to adoption can vary depending on the living situation they are in.
For children who are eventually adopted by their foster parents, there isn’t a drastic life change. Now the child(ren) has the comfort of knowing his or her parents are committed to supporting them on a long-term basis, not just a temporary one.
For children who are adopted by another person or family, this can be a more challenging transition. The child has to face a new experience of moving into a new home, possibly in a community where they have never lived and gain a new sense of stability and permanence.
Foster youth living independently after exiting the foster care system
According to latest reports, only 1 in 4 transitional age youth have secure housing and employment set up after leaving the foster care system. For this small group of teens, they are able to live independently and feel a sense of permanency. For 75% of the transitional age youth leaving foster care however, the reality is they struggle to live, survive and thrive independently on their own. They age out of the foster care system with very few resources, little or no support from family and no adoptive family to call home.
What resources are available today for transitional age youth who have to face independent living?
There are many resources available for transitional age youth who have left foster care. Child welfare agencies and nonprofit organizations throughout Southern California youth help and assistance through:
- Independent living programs
- Living stipends for rent at apartments or college dormitories.
- College and financial aid application assistance
- Workforce readiness training
- Career development training
What is Assembly Bill 12 (AB12) and how does it help transitional age youth today?
Passed in 2012, AB12 extended foster care services from age 18 to 21 across the state of California. This gives foster youth four more years of access to benefits and resources within the foster care system that they might not be able to get outside of the foster care system living independently. Once a transitional age youth reaches the age of 18, there are certain eligibility requirements they need to apply for, including: filing an open case and periodically meeting with social workers to discuss independent living plans.
What are some outcomes of foster youth who have experienced extended foster care up until the age of 21?
The University of Chicago’s ongoing CalYOUTH study is measuring the effectiveness of California’s AB 12 by comparing the outcomes of youth who enrolled in extended foster care services after the age of 18, with those who did not enroll. The researchers’ initial findings from this year shows the effectiveness, success and health outcomes of foster youth having extended foster care support up until the age of 21.
The CalYOUTH study found that 34% of foster youth who left foster care after 18 reported being homeless and 30% were enrolled in school. Comparing that with , only 14% of foster youth still enrolled under AB 12’s extended care services had been homeless. In addition, of those same youth who left foster care at 18, only 30% were enrolled in school, while 61% of the youth who had remained in care were in school.
If a foster youth opts into extended foster care, from age 18 to 21, he or she can continue living with a foster family or in a group home. An alternative form of extended foster care is living in an independent living arrangement such as an apartment or college dormitory, while still being able to access services and receiving government funds for living expenses. Those teenagers who do not opt into extended foster care age out of the system when they turn 18.
What is the Continuum of Care Reform Act and how will it affect the lives of foster youth?
Continuum of Care Reform is statewide legislation signed by California Governor Jerry Brown in 2015. Though it will take a couple of years to fully implement, in the years ahead this legislation will undoubtedly change the living situations of many foster youths.
It aims to drastically reduce the number of children placed in group homes and the amount of time they spend in group homes across California. Group homes will be replaced with short-term residential treatment centers that only provide temporary care to children who demonstrate a need for more intensive treatment. All such placements would require a case plan and timeline for moving the child to a less restrictive placement, such as in a foster home. The reduction of group homes throughout California will require more foster parents to be recruited and retained.