Aging out of foster care

Mary Hill-Wagner | 5/19/2010, 5 p.m.

It was 1982, when Valerie Johnson aged out of the Los Angeles County foster care system, when she turned age 18. "It's scary to be out there and you have to hustle and you don't have the support system (of a family)," she said.

As the nation marks National Foster Care month in May, one of the primary problems facing the system is children who are "kicked to the curb" when they "age out" of the system at 18, according to Assembly Speaker Emeritus Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles).

"I have co-authored a bill with Assembly member Jim Beall Jr. of San Jose to support foster youth in California until they are 21 years old," Bass said in a recent release.

The bill is called the California Fostering Connections to Success Act. It is now moving to the State Senate. Currently, foster youth are forced to 'age out' of the system at 18--often with no place to go, Bass said.

Johnson, a secretary with two sons, said, "A lot of foster children don't have that option to call their mom or dad. They might get in trouble, and they might do something illegal so they can survive. You can't just throw them out into the street and expect them to figure out what to do. You have to have a transition period, until that person can be self sufficient."

There are many tragic stories related to children who age out of foster care, Bass said. "One young man told us of having a birthday cake at his group home--and then being asked by them where he was going to go that night. He was told they were sorry but he had to leave. States which have provided foster youth support until age 21 have produced far better outcomes, when it comes to foster youth's education, health, employment and incarceration rates," Bass said. "In these tough economic times, this support is critical."

The extension of foster services to the age of 21 might come with a hefty price tag, however, according to a report commissioned by Partners for Our Children in Seattle. The agency was commissioned by California foster care advocates to specifically analyze the cost and benefits of allowing foster youth to remain in care until age 21.

"We estimate that the average per youth cost of extending foster to age 21--net cost offsets associated with public utilization when youth cannot remain in care--to be approximately $37,948 (per child)," the report said. "We expect the federal government to pay $13,282, the state of California $9,866 and the placing county $14,800 per person to extend foster Care in California to age 21."

Where would the millions of dollars come from to extend foster care to age 21 in the state?

Some of it would come from the federal government, according to a statement from Bass' office. "Research has shown that an investment by California in our foster youth could result in as high as $4 to $1 cost benefit ratio over time," the statement said. "The proposed Assembly Bill would allow California to access up to $60 million in new available federal funds from legislation signed into law in 2008," according to the statement.