Foster Care May Extend Until Age 21

March 9, 2009 7:54:36 PM PDT
There was a move in Sacramento early Monday night that could dramatically help the lives of teenagers all over California. Foster children are cut loose the moment they turn 18, but that may soon change.

Roughly 5,000 foster kids in California turn 18 each year and become too old to remain in the system. It was a rude awaking for 20-year-old Kevin West of Santa Cruz, who was living in a group home.

"The day I turned 18, my staff made a cake for my birthday. I had no idea I had to leave until that night. They're like, 'So what are you doing?' I'm all, 'Going to bed.' They're like, 'Not here!'" said Kevin West, from Foster Youth Santa Cruz.

Like so many other 18-year-old foster youth, West became homeless with no one to help him. A new study out Monday by the University of Washington finds when a state extends benefits to these young adults until they're 21 years old, they fare much better in life.

They're three times more likely to enroll in college, are 65-percent less likely to have been arrested, and are 38-percent less likely to become pregnant.

"If we're going to operate a Foster Care system and take on this role, let's continue it into early adulthood, which is what we do with our kids," said Professor Mark Courtney, Ph.D., from the University of Washington.

While some taxpayer groups bemoan the cost of expanding government services up to three more years for each kid, the study points out the state saves money in the long run if he or she isn't in prison or on welfare.

A bi-partisan group of lawmakers is pushing through a proposal to expand California's foster system to 21, which makes it eligible for roughly $70 million a year more in federal money.

"Foster youth need a safety net and this legislation will allow us to extend that safety net to the age of 21," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D) of Los Angeles.

Federal money would allow California to offer more transitional housing, classes on life skills, an help on how to get into college.


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