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County to Overhaul Preparation of Youths for Independence

The Los Angeles County Children’s Commission soon will call for an overhaul of the ways youths in foster care are prepared for independence. The move is prompted by a recent Los Angeles County Grand Jury report that warned that such youths are abruptly released without such help and head into homelessness at “an alarming rate.”

The commission is expected to ask the Los Angeles Dependency Court to ensure that, among other things, foster youths earn a high school degree before they are released.

Meanwhile, homeless youth shelters are increasingly addressing the needs of foster care graduates. In September, L.A. Foster Youth Connection, a nonprofit group, opened a shelter on USC’s fraternity row for a dozen homeless former foster youths. Two other Los Angeles groups have similar plans.

Helping such teen-agers “is one of my obsessive priorities,” said Department of Children’s Services Director Peter Digre. In June, his department created a checklist to ensure that teen-agers have a job, a place to go, a farewell party and at least four changes of clothes before they leave.

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California lags behind New York, which allows homeless youths up to six months to return to foster care until they turn 21. New York’s move followed a 1985 lawsuit by several foster teen-agers who were released and given a bus token and directions to the homeless shelter. They ended up sleeping in Manhattan parking lots.

The lawsuit sparked federal legislation the next year to create independent-living programs, and a New York policy to release only those who have a stable place to live. It also gives youths up to $1,800 toward a security deposit on an apartment, and a subsequent $300 monthly subsidy until they turn 21.

California Youth Connection, a nonprofit advocacy group, has said similar policies would help stem taxpayer spending on welfare and prisons for former foster youths. It has suggested to Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy that youths be released with $1,500 for an apartment deposit and first month’s rent.


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