How Can We Keep Former Foster Care Youth from Ending Up in Shelters?

written by Sharon McDonald
April 7, 2014

Carolyn, 19 years old, is seeking shelter for herself and her two young children. The young family has been staying with her boyfriend’s mother, but the relationship is deteriorating and she needs a fresh start. She has been disconnected from her own mother since she entered foster care at age 13.

Susan, 17, is an honor roll student in high school who has been living in a group home for foster youth. She has thrived there, but she is only able to stay until she completes high school. She knows other youth have experienced homelessness after exiting foster care, so she is researching other housing options in her town so she will be prepared.

Robert, 18 just completed a juvenile justice program after getting in trouble with gangs. He has done well in the program, finishing his GED. He has strong relationships with family members, including a very supportive aunt, but his aunt lacks the financial resources to take him in. He has no stable place to stay.

What do all these youth have in common? They are all vulnerable youth who face the very real prospect of ending up in an emergency shelter for homeless adults or youth. But what if we had a better solution than shelter for these young people? In California, we already do. California is one of many states that have made the decision to extend foster care for youth under the Fostering Connections to Success Act.

In California, the extension of foster care essentially allows federal child welfare dollars to continue supporting eligible young people until they reach age 21. Extended foster care  is available to many youth in juvenile justice programs as well as youth who ran away from foster care but whose case remained open until they reached age 18.

Youth who are thriving in their current foster home may choose to remain where they are, but they may also choose other housing and service arrangements like transitional housing programs or supervised independent living programs.

Youth who decide to leave foster care at age 18 can still return later and access this help, not to return to foster care placements they were once anxious to leave, but to a housing and service arrangement that meets their current needs. Since remaining in foster care is voluntary for youth over age 18, they have a strong voice in what housing arrangements they will accept.

So how might things work differently for the young people we met?

Carolyn and her two young children may be offered transitional housing or  supervised independent living program, which would provide Carolyn with the financial resources she needs to pay rent and supportive services to help her meet her other independent living goals. In California, parenting youth are also offered a parenting supplement that will help her take care of her two young children.

Susan, the honor roll student preparing to exit foster care, could opt to remain in care and draw on child welfare resources to help pay for dormitory housing at the university she hopes to attend.

Robert, after completing a juvenile justice program, could choose to move in with his supportive aunt who would receive payment for providing him housing and support, a measure that would make a big difference in their household budget.

The Fostering Connections to Success Act greatly expands the housing options for  young people in foster care who are reaching age 18. And it provides new opportunities to youth who have already exited foster care but find themselves homeless and without the support they need to succeed.

If you want to learn more about how California is implementing the Fostering Connections to Success Act, check out the Powerpoint presentation embedded below reviewing the powerpoint provided by Lindsay Elliott of the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles. It's from a the workshop "Ending Homelessness for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care"  at the Alliance's 2014 National Conference on Ending Family Homelessness

Photo by Elvert Barnes.