Because an 18th birthday signals the end of government support for foster children, these youngsters often do not see that event as one to celebrate. Ready or not, they must leave the security of foster or group homes to work and live on their own. And, as any teen-ager will tell you, jobs are hard to find in this time of high unemployment.
To ease the plight of those experiencing this so-called emancipation, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will aim to fill 5% of the county’s new entry-level jobs with teen-agers leaving foster care. Hundreds of youngsters are expected to benefit from these government jobs.
Supervisor Deane Dana proposed the plan following reports in The Times and by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury that found many foster children are forced into homelessness by abrupt release.
Dana’s motion also gives foster children who are completing their junior year in high school first chance at federally funded summer youth employment and job-training programs. They need that priority to learn marketable skills and gain work experience before they must leave foster care.
About 1,000 youngsters will be released this year from foster care. Most cannot turn to parents or other relatives, and they typically lack money to rent an apartment and to cover daily expenses. Some will find a way to go to college, but for many it’s a grim situation.
Teen-agers on the streets without skills often turn to welfare to survive. A few resort to crime. Without a doubt they need help, and Peter Digre, the compassionate and assertive director of the county Department of Children’s Services, is providing some transitional housing. Digre now insists that all foster care “graduates” have a job, a place to go and four changes of clothes before they leave group homes or fosters parents. That checklist is helpful, but Sacramento should provide more state assistance. New York state, as a result of a lawsuit there, now provides former foster children with up to $1,800 for rent plus a $300 monthly subsidy until they turn 21. California should do at least as much.
The county jobs will mean the difference between a safe haven and the streets for many former foster children. But government can’t hire all of them. The private sector, too, should pledge jobs to help foster care graduates struggling to make it on their own.