Tuesday, October 25, 2011

One-fourth of New York City foster youth age out immediately into homelessness

A Deal to Help Foster Youths Find Housing
Secret, Mosi. New York Times, October 20, 2011

New York City has reached an agreement on a proposed settlement of a lawsuit that claims the city allows older children to leave foster care only to become immediately homeless.

Each year, roughly 800 to 1,100 people age 18 to 21 are discharged from foster care to fend for themselves, the plaintiffs complained in the class-action suit.

There is no current data on the youths’ housing after foster care, but previously the city’s Department of Homeless Services and the City Council estimated that more than a quarter of youths discharged from foster care because of their age end up homeless almost immediately, according to the complaint, which accuses the city of shirking its responsibilities to those youths.

The city is required by state law to supervise and assist in providing housing for people who have left foster care until they reach age 21.

The accord calls for the city to maintain a unit in the Administration for Children’s Services for those people, initiate training for foster care agencies, revamp its procedures for helping youths find stable housing and improve their access to services.

The agreement is the product of two years of negotiations among the Administration for Children’s Services, the Legal Aid Society and the advocacy group Lawyers for Children. The parties said they had agreed to settle to avoid protracted litigation, and they actually reached the agreement before the lawsuit was filed in Manhattan Supreme Court on Monday.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers filed the suit to provide for court enforcement if problems develop down the road, said Pat Bath, the spokeswoman for Legal Aid. A judge has to approve the settlement before it goes into effect.

The four lead plaintiffs remain anonymous. Three are 21 years old and at risk of being homeless at discharge because they do not have stable housing lined up, according to the complaint. One is 20, has already been discharged and is at risk of becoming homeless, the complaint says.

“An alarming number of young people are being discharged from foster care into homelessness,” Tamara Steckler, the lawyer in charge of the juvenile rights practice at the Legal Aid Society, said in a written statement.

Ronald E. Richter, the commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, said in a written statement, “We are committed to helping young people leaving foster care achieve successful adulthood, which includes appropriate stable housing.”

Under the accord, the children’s services agency will develop permanent housing plans for youths living in foster care. It will work with foster care agencies to create the plans in time to find adequate housing. The city and the agencies will monitor the young adults discharged under the plans until they turn 21.

Children’s Services will also track and monitor data on their housing until they turn 21.

Also, a new unit in Children’s Services will oversee the foster care agencies’ adherence to the new requirements.

New York foster youth "aging out" into homelessness

Deal reached to help older foster care children
Associated Press, October 21, 2011

NEW YORKNew York City has reached an agreement on a proposed settlement of a lawsuit that claimed it allowed foster care children to fall into homelessness after leaving the system at age 18.

The lawsuit said the Administration for Children's Services failed to abide by state laws that mandate children be prepared for independent living when they leave foster care.

The agreement calls on the ACS to maintain a special unit for children who turn 18. It also calls on the ACS to initiate training for foster care agencies, update its procedures for helping youths find stable housing and improve their access to services.

The agreement was reached after two years of negotiations among the ACS, the Legal Aid Society and the advocacy group Lawyers for Children.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Aging Out" of foster care - and into a harsh, new world

The "Aging Out" Dilemma Plaguing the Foster Care System
Baccaglini, Bill. Executive Director of the New York Foundling.
Huffington Post, September 25, 2011.

Imagine that because you've been abused or neglected as a child, you've spent the first 21 years of your life separated from your biological family, bouncing from one foster home to another and changing schools every few years. At 21-years-old, you have never paid rent, bought your own groceries or managed your own expenses.

With an education that's spotty at best, and no family or other support systems in place, you're told that you're now an adult and responsible for functioning in the world on your own. Would you be able to do it?

That is precisely the situation facing many young adults who age out of our child welfare system. And while outgoing ACS Commissioner Mattingly did a tremendous job on many fronts, he would probably agree that the "aging out" population is one that still requires urgent attention. As new Commissioner Richter takes over the agency, this would be an excellent time to take a fresh look at how we serve - or fail - these young people.

While local statistics are hard to come by for a population no longer under the city's care, nationally, one in four of the 20,000 foster care youth who age out of the child welfare system each year are incarcerated within two years; one in five become homeless, only half graduate from high school. With more than 900 young people aging out in New York each year, these numbers reflect a real problem.

Under the current system, when young people in foster care turn 21, they have the rug pulled out from under them.

They must sink or swim. But if they sink, we all pay a price. Unable to manage on their own, with none of the support systems in place that we all take for granted, all too often, they end up homeless, or turn to drugs and crime - all of which take a toll on government budgets and the quality of life in our communities.

Because of their life experiences some kids need more support than others - and they may need it for longer. A 21-year-old who has lived most of his life in either the child welfare system or a dysfunctional family setting is not at the same level emotionally or cognitively as other 21-year-olds. And as every parent knows, you can't set an arbitrary schedule for maturity.

As nervous as we may be to send our own children away to college, for example, we recognize that we could not have gotten them more ready simply by training them better or earlier. Most of the kids we're talking about are not going away to college; they may not have graduated high school. There are no teachers or mentors or parents they can call when run out of money or get into trouble. They're on their own and, for many of them, 21 is simply not old enough. And no amount of training or better programming by the child welfare system could have hastened their readiness. Because of their many pressing needs and challenges, they have not been the beneficiaries of structured or guided exposure to life experiences that naturally facilitates the maturation process.

What's the solution? First, we need more and better programs to prepare these kids for life on their own. Once they are on their own, they are likely to still need help with housing, jobs and enrolling in some form of academic or vocational higher education. They may also need social work or mental health assistance to deal with issues like parents coming out of prison or siblings with drug problems. For those kids, providing this kind of support until age 23 could mean the difference between a productive life and a life in the corrections system or a homeless shelter. These age appropriate programs that work beyond the system are a very good investment indeed.

At the same time, we need to make it clear that this support for young adults is temporary, and that the recipient must ultimately bear responsibility for his or her own success. These young people must stay enrolled in school and hold a job, even if part time. There must be high expectations, no free rides, and a path toward independence in a relatively short term.

For Hispanic youngsters today, we're seeing particular challenges, at least partly due to changing immigration trends. Many young immigrants, coming here from a variety of countries, do not have the generational, family and community support that has existed for previous immigrant groups. Whatever extended family they may have to fall back on may already be stretched thin. Combine lack of family with language barrier and overall cultural differences, and that child is at even greater risk.

Critics may argue that at some point we need to stop supporting these kids and cut them loose, and that 21 seems like a logical age. After all, we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on each of these kids up until that point - When is enough enough? If release from the child welfare system is no more than a path toward a homeless shelter or a jail cell, what have we accomplished? If by creating short term programs to teach the necessary skills prior to turning 21 and by providing some additional support for a limited period of time afterwards, we can put that young adult on the path to a successful productive life. Isn't that worth it?