Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Foster Care and Young Adulthood

Postcard from Foster Care Alumni of America

Historically, the age of 18
was thought of as a divider between childhood and adulthood.

Back in the early to mid-20th century, jobs were available to people with little or no education. Therefore, most young people could financial and social independence by their 18th birthday.

This is no longer the case. It has been estimated that nearly a quarter of the cost of raising children is now provided after the age of 17.

The average parent of 18-34 year olds provides over $2,000/year to support them.

Today, some people are over 30 before they:
- Complete their schooling
- Obtain steady work
- Move out of the family home
- Get married and have children

Higher education is becoming necessary, in order to earn a living wage:
- A bachelor's degree today is the equivalent of a high school degree in the 60s

- Two-thirds of all new jobs that will be created in the next 10 years will require post-secondary education

- Adults who have only a high school degree are twice as likely to be unemployed as those with a bachelor's degree

- A typical high school graduate, with no additional education, will earn over his/her lifetime half as much as a college graduate

Demands for increasing education have created a larger gap between childhood and adulthood. Therefore, developmental experts now recognize a transitional stage of Young Adulthood.

But what about young people aging out of foster care? (You knew I would come back to that, didn't you?) Published statistics outline dire outcomes for our lives - and these odds need to change.

This weekend, I created a wiki called Changing the Odds

Its purpose is to:
- Outline the scary statistics and troubling trends regarding foster care alumni
- Examine which policies are helping, and what systemic barriers need to be fixed
- Celebrate "Best Practices" in terms of successful programs throughout the nation

Adolescence and the Transition to Adulthood: Rethinking Public Policy for a New Century
Business Roundtable
Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago
MacArthur Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood and Public Polic
National Adolescent Health Information Center
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
U.S. Census Bureau

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Five Things You Can Do To Make A Positive Difference

My recent postings have focused largely on areas in need of reform. But I also want to make clear that I have a lot of hope and faith that we can create and inspire positive change!

Here are five things that you can do in order to make a positive difference for young people "aging out" of the foster care system:

1.) Youth advisory boards: Youth advisory boards are a wonderful first step in empowering youth, building their leadership skills and helping them to be agents of change to positively impact the system!

If you are a young person, it's worth your time to get involved! If you are a foster parent, please allow the young people in your care to pursue this opportunity! And, if you are a social worker, please encourage youth participation as well...

2.) Legislative forums: There are many opportunities to share your voice and youth voice with legislators to make a positive difference!

For example, during the months of July-August, OACCA is holding Independent Living forums around the state of Ohio in order to better address the needs of young people transitioning from various "systems" - including foster care.

3.) Mentoring: The bumper sticker on my car says: "If you can't be a foster parent, why not be a mentor?" Being a mentor is a wonderful way to build into another person's life.

Some of my previous blog entries outline foster care mentoring programs, such as:

-CWLA's Fostering Healthy Connections Through Peer Mentoring
-In My Shoes; an Arizona-based foster care alumni-led program
-Mentoring USA, based in New York but willing to travel to share their model
-Orphan Foundation of America's virtual-mentoring program
-Transitioning Teens Program, which has a great partnership with their local CASA

If the area where you live doesn't have a mentoring program for foster care youth, you might consider contacting some of the above resources to request their help in starting one!

4.) Wiki of resources:
This weekend, I watched couple of free videos on how to create a wiki on youtube, and then created Life After Foster Care in Ohio.

One thing that you can do is become the local expert in your area. You don't have to have "all the answers" at the onset. Your knowledge will grow as you become more involved.

Ways to increase your knowledge about foster care resources:
Visit your local library
Surf the net
Call local agencies and ask questions
Don't give up

5.) Sponsoring youth membership in Foster Care Alumni of America: Foster care youth and alumni deserve to be connected to a community that they can belong to forever, and never "age out" of...

They deserve current and future chances to use their experiences to positively transform the child welfare system. Their voice will only become stronger and their message more articulate with age.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Whatever happened to the Family Unification Program?

Cartoon used with permission from www.markstivers.com

The 25,000 young people aging out of foster care each year don't have a parent's basement to live in.

They don't have anyone to co-sign for them to rent an apartment.

When they go to college, they can't call "mom" and "dad" if they need help, and they don't have a place to spend college breaks, unless their college has taken this need into consideration.

Regarding housing assistance, how do you want your tax dollars to be spent?

Would you rather invest in these 25,000 young people aging out of foster care each year before they enter into situations of homelessness, unwed pregnancy, unemployment and incarceration?

Would you rather offer hope and assistance when they are in their late-teens and early-20s, a time when young people have an open mind, high level of energy and are actively engaged in the process of directing their future lives?

Even for the most hard-hearted pragmatist, the cost-benefit ratio should be obvious: "Communities can provide services and housing for less than $6,000 annually while the cost of residential treatment and incarceration of these youth often exceeds $55,000 annually."

The purpose of the Family Unification Program (FUP) is:

- To promote family unification by providing housing choice vouchers to families for whom the lack of adequate housing is a primary factor in the separation, or the threat of imminent separation, of children from their families, and

- To provide housing choice vouchers to youths 18 to 21 years old who left foster care after the age of 16, and lack adequate housing.

Congress added youth as an eligible population for FUP in October 2000. The intent was to help young people aging out of foster care to receive the housing resources they need to avoid homelessness and successfully transition to adulthood.

But youth across the nation are not receiving this help. Why?

According to CWLA, HUD has not issued Notices of Funding Availability for the FUP program since FY2002. Nor have they released funds for FUP since then... despite the fact that the Tenant Protection Fund (where FUP money comes from) had leftover funds of up to $33 million that could have been used for this program.

Some states appear to be creating a local work-around regarding this issue. Kudos to Colorado for figuring out a way to provide youth housing on a statewide level.

But it troubles me that HUD appears to be ignoring this program. Even on HUD's website, where FUP is mentioned - with no success stories, I might add - the eligibility criteria that they posted does not even mention young people aging out of the foster care system.

This is a national problem and it needs to be addressed by Congress.

According to the Child Welfare League of America, "In the FY2007 Appropriations Bill, the House and Senate set aside $10 million of the funds in HUD’s Tenant Protection Fund for FUP for the purpose of promoting family unification and successful transitions to adulthood for hundreds of young people in foster care. Unfortunately, when the Congress passed a year-long Continuing Resolution, the $10 million for FUP was dropped."

Another thing that I find short-sighted is that the systemic barriers and short-time span regarding youth housing vouchers:

1.) Vouchers for families are renewed yearly -- but vouchers for youth are time-limited to 18 months. As with my previous blog entry, I believe this sends a message to young women that they will receive help only if they get pregnant.

2.) The child welfare agency is responsible to refer the youth to the program, and to provide aftercare services. Child welfare agencies can contract with other agencies to do so...

But what about youth who fall through the cracks, and don't have agencies and agency workers who are willing to advocate for them? Don't they need help most of all?

Important Update: Please see Sept. blog entry regarding opportunity to apply for FUP funds.

Child Welfare League of America
Catholic Charities USA