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Task Force on Foster Care to Study Plight of Former Wards

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Reacting to grand jury criticism, county supervisors on Thursday approved formation of a task force to conduct an assessment of the county foster care system, including the lack of transitional living programs for those who have reached the age of 18.

Supervisor Cynthia P. Coad, who pushed for the two-year task force, said she wanted a strong group that could “dig into and find the issues” to help protect foster care children.

The six-month grand jury study relied on national and state studies on foster care and also interviewed 38 former county foster teenagers. It found that 12 to 18 months after leaving the system, half of the youths were unemployed, more than a third had not finished high school and nearly half had become unwed parents.

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“We know that half of the emancipated become homeless,” said Jim Palmer, Orange County Rescue Mission executive director, who spoke on behalf of the task force plan. “There are not enough foster parents and not enough training services available for them, and consequently they fail.”

With a task force, the county can at least determine where help is needed and set up priorities. For example, Palmer said, the group could start with foster children as young as 3.

“We can focus on better training for foster parents and provide the resources they need to raise a kid in Orange County,” he said. “If we don’t they can eventually go to group homes where typically half get involved in drugs, get pregnant and get locked up.”

One of the goals, Coad said, is that after two years the Foster Care Task Force will convert into a commission that will recommend new programs for adoption by the county.

The task force will have 12 members who will be selected by the board.

Supervisors have also proposed using old military housing at the former El Toro Marine base to shelter emancipated youths. The concept is to provide housing and a host of related services that include job training, drug rehabilitation and counseling.

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