A recent Human Rights Watch report on California's neglect of children leaving foster care has gained considerable international coverage. The 70-page report, titled "My So-Called Emancipation," is based on interviews with 63 young people who were homeless after leaving foster care in California at age 18.
"Homelessness is a predictable outcome," says the report prepared by children's rights advocate Elizabeth Calvin. It afflicts 20 percent of the 4,000 California foster children leaving state care every year. According to HRW, they lack jobs, educational plans, and skills required for employment and daily living. Unavailability of psychological services and caring adults weighs heavily upon young people who typically entered state custody because of abuse or neglect. Many have learning disabilities. On leaving state care, 65 percent hadn't finished high school, 62 percent had no medical coverage, and 90 percent no income.
California law requires child welfare agencies to develop an "emancipation plan" for young adults leaving foster care. "In practice, plans are often not made or are unrealistic and unlikely to prevent a youth from becoming homeless," says the report. Former foster children are likely candidates for poverty, early pregnancy, educational failure, incarceration, drug use, and criminal victimization.
According to mercurynews.com, every year on their 18th birthday, 600 foster care youth in and around San Francisco lose state-funded services. Author Bryan Williams says that "20 percent will be arrested or incarcerated, 46 percent will complete high school and only 1 percent will graduate from college." He adds that 70 percent of San Quentin inmates have foster care experience.
The Child Welfare League of America reports that up to 25,000 U. S. young people "age out" of foster care every year. The organization cites studies showing that 12 percent to 36 percent of them will become homeless and that one-third of homeless adults have been in foster care previously. California Social Services analysts concluded recently that 65 percent of those permanently leaving foster care lack assurances of safe and affordable housing.
California's Transitional Housing Placement Plus (THP-Plus) program, initiated in 2001, put 1,234 former foster care youths in homes in 2008, up from 507 in 2007. Yet $80 million in budget cuts last year caused 400 social workers to be laid off, eliminated stipends for transitioning youths, and cut services for 1,400 program participants. Without an additional $6.9 billion in federal funding this year, THP-Plus faces elimination.
Human Rights Watch recommended financial support for former foster children care, improved pre-departure planning, skills development for independent living, and strategies toward cultivation of supportive relationships.
According to the 2000 U. S. Census, 4 million people aged 25-34 years still live with parents. That way residual dependency needs are taken care of. Yet needy, powerless foster children are denied that manifestation of human solidarity. They are relegated to second-class status. The power of government over California's 65,000 foster children, funding decisions included, is skewed to the benefit of others.
The prison industry there, for example, takes in $8.5 billion annually, figured at $50,000 spent per each of California's 170,000 adult prisoners, up from 30,000 prisoners in 1980. Over the past 30 years, the state has opened 32 new prisons (Cathy Cockrell interview May 5 with criminologist Barry Krisberg, UC Berkeley NewsCenter).
The cruelty of abrupt, unprepared departures from California foster care is likely to grow without new federal funding to save THP-Plus.
But powerful forces have competing claims for Washington monies.
General James Cartwright of the Joint Chiefs of Staff this month predicted continuing war "for as far as the eye can see." War expenditures since 2001 exceed $6 trillion. Iraq and Afghanistan have absorbed $1 trillion and will use up $159 billion next year.
"Who benefits from permanent war?" lawyer Bill Quigley asked recently. He identified corporations who "openly lobby for more and more money to be invested in war," who "profit enormously from government contracts." The United States accounts for 40 percent of worldwide military spending.
According to the Human Rights Watch report, "One of the statements we heard most from interviewees was that no one really cared what happened to them." Indeed, exorbitant war spending suggests the homeless former foster children may be right. They and others may be falling victim to priorities misplaced enough that human dignity and equality get short shrift.
Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/432734059/ cc 2.0