Human Rights Watch has released a new report about California youth in foster care with some startling results. At least 20 percent of the 4,000 who are released from foster care each year end up homeless.
Through interviews with 63 young people who became homeless after leaving foster care, it was evident that factors leading to homelessness include “missed opportunities to learn skills, lack of ability to support themselves, a shortage of second chances, and the fact that no one cared what happened to them.”
With homelessness, young people are more likely to be incarcerated, criminally victimized, sexually abused, impregnated early and/or impoverished. Those with mental health problems, which are not uncommon among foster youth, face even more obstacles, with lack of access to health services.
The state mandates that foster youth be provided with food, health care, shelter and education. However emotional support and guidance are not necessarily present in their lives. When they turn 18 and are “emancipated” they more often than not lack the tools to navigate the adult world. And although child welfare agencies are required to aid foster youth in developing a plan for post-emancipation, HRW’s interviews revealed that reality is often quite different.
The statistics are disturbing. An astounding 90 percent of youth had no source of income upon the time they left foster care, nor did they have any adult to turn to for support. 65 percent had not graduated from high school and 62 percent had no health care.
With the publication of the report, Human Rights Watch calls for California to provide foster youth with support in order to make a smoother transition to adulthood, such as providing mentoring programs, transitional housing programs, mental health services and education programs. It would also be helpful to have programs to address the problems former foster youth face such as early pregnancy or learning disabilities. Elizabeth Calvin, senior advocate for children’s rights at Human Rights Watch, argues, “In most US families, young people continue to receive a spectrum of support - emotional and financial – as they make the transition to adulthood, and the youth in California’s care deserve no less.”