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Opinion

Olive Avenue Confidential: Foster kids are everyone’s children

It’s no secret that foster kids have it tough.

First, they are victims of abuse or neglect by the people who are supposed to care about them most. Then they have to leave behind everything they’ve ever known — home is home, even if it’s a bad one — to live with strangers in a strange place.

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Family reunification or adoption can make for happy endings, but in all too many cases kids stay with foster families or in group homes until they emancipate, or “age out,” of the child welfare system at 18, suddenly forced to care for themselves with few resources and no family to help them.

That’s the side of foster care people don’t often think about: what comes after. While child welfare officials operate a range of programs to address young people’s basic needs after foster care and to help them attain skills needed for adulthood, there just aren’t enough resources to make sure all of them get everything they need to become successful adults.

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Education and employment are the roots of success, but neither is attainable without a secure place to live.

Transitional housing programs help foster kids find their feet and sort out their futures, but there are far too few of them — maybe half of what’s needed, said Rhelda Shabazz of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, the agency in charge of more than 15,000 kids in foster care.

And though various studies report that as many as one-third of those who emancipate from foster care can expect to become homeless at some point in their lives, state budget cutbacks threaten to reduce the amount of transitional housing available to those who grew up in the system.

The good news is that Burbank can help make a difference.

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As early as Aug. 17, City Council members will consider whether to use designated affordable-housing funds and federal grant money for a project that would provide shelter and stability for local teenagers with no family to go home to and few options other than homeless shelters.

The nonprofit Burbank Housing Corporation is seeking a $1.2-million loan through the Redevelopment Agency to buy and then refurbish a cozy pair of duplexes at 255 W. Linden Ave., not far from the freeway.

Three two-bedroom apartments would house six young adults for up to two years each, with a manager in a fourth unit to supervise the site, said housing corporation Executive Director Judith Arandes.

The corporation plans to contract with the Family Services Agency of Burbank to manage the program, which Arandes said would include case management services and require participating youth to hold down a job, make small monthly “rent” payments (maybe $200 each), and save a significant portion of their income for after they grow out of the program.

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In March, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors ordered an ongoing special review of programs affecting the ability of kids in foster care to develop into self-sufficient adults.

Housing, or lack thereof, is a primary focus of that effort, said Helen Berberian, a deputy for Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

Antonovich initiated the review, and Berberian says his office supports this and other local-level efforts to stabilize the lives of youth leaving foster care.

The Burbank Housing Corporation and Family Services Agency have already successfully partnered to provide transitional housing for homeless families and victims of domestic violence.

Preventing teen homelessness is an equally worthy cause because foster youth aren’t someone else’s kids, they’re everyone’s.

JOE PIASECKI is an Annenberg Fellow with USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and a contributing editor for the Pasadena Weekly. He can be reached at piasecki@usc.edu.


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