By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The sudden end of economic and emotional support at age 18 stands in dramatic contrast to how the rest of America’s young people live. Children in America get continual economic help from their families — right into middle age. According to the Pew Research Center, based in Washington, D.C., more than half of American adults age 40 and under receive an average of $3,410 annually from their parents.
Foster-care graduates often don’t get a dime from relatives, and that includes Jacquez. She doesn’t know her father, and she says that her grandmother was too drunk to care for her after her mom succumbed to drug use. Jacquez ran away from one group home after another, but finally, she says, “all that rebellion just went away.”
Her black hair is pulled back tight, and she’s wearing gleaming white sneakers: She still looks like a kid. “It hit me when I turned 18 . . . I thought about my mom, and I wasn’t trying to end up like her.”
DCFS, in conjunction with private agencies, provides classes to prepare youths who are set to “emancipate.” The classes, some for adolescents as young as 14, attempt to teach life skills that most children learn from their families. Para los Niños, a private agency, focuses on issues like how to interview for jobs, how to pay rent, and how to quit a job without derailing your career.
DCFS Director Patricia Ploehn says that of DCFS’s $1.5 billion budget, just $16 million is slated for the DCFS’s Youth Development Services division (YDS), which deals in longer-term issues, and of the more than 7,000 DCFS employees, only 124 work to prepare children in foster care to make it on their own once they turn 18.
But all that is voluntary on the part of the kids: Of 12,000 youths offered training and help to prepare for the outside world, only 8,000 accepted the assistance.
For the constantly growing number of foster-care grads on the streets, DCFS provides 383 beds, according to the head of the Youth Services Department, Rhelda Shabazz. One shelter, Temporary Housing Program Plus, has the least stringent in-house rules, so its paltry 39 beds are popular with these young adults. Shabazz says that DCFS intends to increase the number of beds there to 100 this year.
Beyond that, the county provides nine walk-in and call-in centers to help the terminated kids but it’s never enough. Ploehn says her department has halved the number of children in foster care since 1997, and her goal is to create long-lasting relationships between caregivers and foster youths in the hope that they don’t simply “age out.”
New legislation introduced by New York senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would keep the federal tap open to youths until age 21, and Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington plans to propose related reforms.
But the stark fact remains that in the next 12 months, 1,400 kids will be forced onto Los Angeles’ streets with very little help, already hurt by a broken family and a broken system.
J., 17, used to live in a foster home in Long Beach with his older brother and sister. Things went wrong and they had to move out. His sister left for Idaho, and his brother, shortly after turning 18, tried to rob a 99-cent store. It sounded almost inevitable, the way J. tells it: “His social worker just said he’s 18, and terminated his case.”
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