What are the Challenges facing Foster Youth after Emancipation in California? Housing, Mental Health and Education Are Critical Needs
“Given what we experience in foster care, it’s hard to trust people. What we need is the same someone to push us in the right direction year after year until we finish school and get a job.” — Youth in Foster Care
Each year, tens of thousands of children in communities across California are removed from their homes and placed in the foster-care system with the goal of finding a safe and permanent home for each child, either through reunification with the child’s family (after the family has met certain conditions), through adoption, or through placement with a permanent legal guardian. While these children are in the foster-care system, the state assumes legal responsibility for their health and safety.
According to The Transitional Housing Placement Plus, THP-Plus, a program created by the California State Legislature in 2001 that provides affordable Housing and Supportive Services to Youth Transitioning from California’s Foster Care and Juvenile Probation System, foster youth comprise an alarming rate of the homeless population in California.
In 2014-15 more than 1 in 4 youth (28%) entered THP-Plus directly from homelessness.
THP-Plus, a Statewide Implementation Project published by The John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes recently released the FOSTER CARE Annual Report 2014-2015. Following is a summary of its major findings for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014-15.
“I bounced around a lot of schools and never got comfortable being there. Since I knew that I’d be at a school for just a little bit, I felt like I didn’t need to care about my studies.” — Student in foster care
EDUCATION-Foster Youth-Academically At Risk
California is committed to providing high-quality public education for all students. Yet, until recently, reform efforts rarely acknowledged a group of students who persistently underperform: students in foster care.
California has had little statewide information about the education of school-aged children and youth who are in the foster-care system and for whom the state is legally responsible.
This is largely due to challenges related to the availability, collection, and sharing of information about these students across the education and child welfare systems.
As a result, the education needs of these students have often gone unrecognized and unmet—leaving many of them trailing their classmates in academic achievement.
Students in foster care are especially at risk for school failure, as evidenced by poor grades and high rates of absenteeism, grade retention, disciplinary referrals, and dropping out of high school.
California is now setting out to track the academic progress of students in foster care—the first state in the nation to do so.
Thus, the findings reported below are especially timely. California students in foster care have unique characteristics that justify their identification as a separate at-risk student subgroup and that this subgroup has a significant achievement gap compared to the other student groups.
- Students in foster care were 3 times more likely to be African American
- Are classified with a disability at twice the rate of the comparison groups
- Are 5 times more likely to be classified with an emotional disturbance than other students.
- Are older for their grade level
- Had higher rates of enrollment in grades 9, 10, or 11 than the comparison groups, a likely outcome of grade retention and a risk factor for dropping out.
- Are more likely than other students to change schools during the school year. Suffer much higher rates of school mobility than other students.
- Are more likely than other students to be enrolled in nontraditional public schools. Enrollment in these schools suggests that students were unsuccessful at traditional schools and, thus, were transferred to other schools.
- Are more likely than the general population of students to be enrolled in the lowest-performing schools.
- High school students in foster care had the highest dropout rate and lowest graduation rate. Reducing dropout rates and boosting high school graduation rates are state education priorities. To be on track to graduate from a California public high school, students are required to pass both the English language arts and mathematics parts of the California the graduation rate for all grade-12 students statewide was 84 percent, but for students in foster care, it was just 58 percent—the lowest rate among the at-risk student groups.
“When I was in elementary and middle school, I was switched around a lot. I didn’t leave those schools with teachers or kids I knew. Then, for the first time, I was in high school for four years and made friends. Really, it was the teachers who helped me the most. They showed me that I can finish homework, get good grades, go to college, and have a future.” — Student in foster care
“In foster care we live with the unknown—about where we will be living or going to school or what will next happen in our lives. We often get punished for behaving in ways that are reactive to the unknown. Instead of addressing the real issues, at school we are just treated as troublemakers.” — Student in foster care
“I was in a living situation where school wasn’t a priority. There was no time or place to do homework except after my caregiver went to sleep. There was no one in my life who wanted me to make it through school except a few teachers who talked to me and helped me graduate and go to college.” — Student in foster care
“My life was chaotic all the time and so was my school experience. I changed schools a lot. I made and lost friends. I didn’t try in classes I knew I wouldn’t finish. I got in trouble to get attention. Then after a while in high school I turned it around because I wanted a better life, and there were a few teachers who cared enough to help me pass and get a diploma.” — Student in foster care
“No one knew why I messed up in school. No one was there to help me be successful in school. No one told me to stay in school. No one cared when I stopped going.” — Student in foster care
Housing: A Critical Post-Emancipation Need–What type of Housing is Available to Help Emancipated Foster Youth?
The housing program provides emancipated youth with two years affordable housing assistance. A year is extended for those in college. However, most youth exit THP Plus without strengthening their capacity to achieve long-term economic stability.
Given the number of parenting youth and youth with disabilities exiting the housing programs many will need ongoing housing assistance in the form of permanent, affordable housing.
The Challenge: Accessing permanent, affordable housing is often seen as an “extra” rather than a requirement.
Of 1,436 youth placed on July 1, 2015, the most common housing model was remote-site housing. In this model, participants live in individual rental units leased by the THP provider.
In FY 2014-15, remote site accounted for 80 percent of all housing sites. The second most common was the staffed housing model (19%), followed by the host family model (1%)
What does it cost to provide Emancipated Youth with Affordable Housing in California?
THP-Plus costs per youth 2013-14.
During fiscal year 2014-15, monthly rate was:
- $2,457 for a single-site housing model
- $2,300 for a scattered-site model
- $1,892 for a host-family model.
EMANCIPATED FOSTER WOMEN –Young Foster Women with Children: The Struggle to Meet the Unique Needs of Parenting Youths.
Almost half of young women served by the housing program for foster emancipated youth are custodial parents. Many of them become parents while living in THP-Plus. The main public benefits received by the women include CalWORKs, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and the nutrition program, Women, Infant and Children (WIC).
- Securing child care
- Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the participant’s child
- Additional cost associated with providing a parenting youth with an adequately sized apartment
- Challenge of repeat pregnancy
- Parenting youth’s partner’s related problems:
- intimate partner violence
- collection of child support.
Lack of Childcare-A Barrier to Employment and Education:
- The vast majority of children are living with their mothers.
- Roughly 1 in 3 young women in THP are a custodial parent.
- Lack of child care is a barrier to employment and education.
- Almost none are able to access child care due to the high level of demand among low-income families in the community.
- Infant supplements are unevenly administered.
- All custodial parents placed in THP are eligible for a $411 infant supplement. However, interviews with providers and counties revealed that the infant supplement is administered differently across the state.
- Some providers keep the infant supplement, with the rationale that custodial parents require a lower staffing ratio and larger units. Other providers pass the full $411 through to the parenting youth.
EMANCIPATED FOSTER YOUTH AND COLLEGE ACCESS
How Does THP PLUS Participation affect Foster Youth College Enrollment?
According to the latest report, only 1 in 5 participants are enrolled in college.
- While staying in housing, participants make gains in employment and earnings, but struggle with enrolling or remaining in post-secondary education.
- At the entry of THP Plus, 72 percent had graduated from high school or had earned their General Equivalency Degree (GED).
- A total of 21 percent of youth were enrolled in community college. However, at the exit, just 22 percent were still enrolled in post-secondary education.
- In 2014, the California State Legislature changed the eligibility criteria for THP-Plus, allowing a youth who is enrolled in school to stay in the housing program for 36 months instead of 24 months (Senate Bill 1252).
Challenges in Pursuing and Completing an Education:
Lack of preparation for college-level course work and youths’ preference to work affects college completion. Among all students with disabilities, students in foster care had by far the highest rate of emotional disturbance, which is a disability associated with difficulty maintaining relationships, inappropriate behaviors, and depression. These students were affected by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and intellectual disabilities. The largest disability classification for students in foster care was specific learning disability (39 percent), an impairment associated with challenges related to thinking, reading, writing and/or calculating. Students in foster care were also about half as likely to be classified with a speech or language impairment or autism as the comparison groups.
EMANCIPATED FOSTER YOUTH AND SPECIAL NEEDS:
- Many youth exiting THP-Plus have special needs.
- Of youth who exited THP-Plus in 2014-15, 22 percent were identified by their THP-Plus provider as having a special need, defined by the program as a serious physical or mental disability such as a mental illness, intellectual disability, cognitive impairment, or chronic health issue.
- As of July 1, 2014, 17 percent of THP-Plus participants reported that they did not have health insurance, despite their eligibility for Medi-Cal to age 26 under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Foster Youth and Mental Health Needs: How does Emancipation affect care?
Providers and counties are challenged to provide youth with mental health needs.
The inability to provide therapeutic services required to safely house youth with serious mental illness prevented many youth from being placed into housing programs.
When Affordable Housing and Mental Health Services End
At age 21, specialized mental health services for children end. In a survey of county representatives, this challenge was identified as the greatest area of concern.
What’s Being Done to Support Transition into Self Sufficiency:
Students exiting the foster care system are in critical need of academic coaching, financial aid counseling and pathways to career and technical education programs. A greater effort is needed to prevent first and repeat pregnancies for young emancipated foster mothers. Providers and counties must deepen knowledge and capacity to help youth secure permanent, affordable housing post-program. The findings in this report serve as new evidence for policymakers to use in continuing efforts to improve the academic success of students in foster care. Building the knowledge and organizational capacity to help youth transitioning from both programs in accessing affordable housing will ensure that parenting youth and youth with disabilities have the long-term housing support that they often require.
Love and Support from caring volunteers are greatly needed. If you have a little time to spare and a big heart, consider giving an hour of your time weekly to organizations like School on Wheels, where volunteers meet with foster youths to help them with their homework. There are also organizations like, CASA, For many abused children, CASA volunteers are the one constant adult presence in their lives.
A Word From Social Workers:
“Remarkably, some of these same students ‘make it’ anyway. They do well in school, graduate and head off to college. Nothing makes me happier than hearing from someone who was in the foster-care system and, despite all the challenges, went on to earn a college degree and get a good job. Just imagine how much more often this would happen if all of our systems—whether in education or child welfare—worked together to understand and address the unique needs of these students.” — School Social Worker