SPECIAL PROMOTIONAL SECTION
Foster youth already face daunting challenges in their younger years , including parental substance abuse and domestic violence , poverty , a break of familial bonds , and the trauma of multiple placements . But as they age out of the system , a new set of roadblocks to success await .
“ First and foremost , their primary challenge is housing ,” says Helena Lopez , 2022 president of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services , a Sacramento-based association representing foster family agencies and group homes . “ Transitional housing services for foster youth are underfunded . The high housing cost in California , coupled with their earning potential , leaves foster youth at a high risk of homelessness . They also struggle mightily with key social / relational skills , which are vital to maintaining employment .”
The State of California offers extended foster care for youths to continue through age 24 if they are working or in school , Lopez says , but the opportunity is limited and few foster youths attend college . Of those who do , she says , even fewer move past their first year in college .
“ The pandemic has been particularly hard for older youth in foster care and those who have recently aged out of the system ,” says Dr . Dawnté Early , who has a doctorate in human development and is CEO of United Way California Capital Region . “ They ’ re not only facing isolation but staggering levels of job loss and food insecurity . When the system fails to find permanent homes for youth , they ’ re significantly more likely to experience homelessness , unemployment and even incarceration .”
Developing Life Skills United Way is one of several local nonprofits that is stepping up to assist transitional age youth by providing mentoring and helping former foster kids develop the life skills that they either weren ’ t taught or didn ’ t see a need to learn .
Its Women United action group has raised about $ 2 million for foster
“ The pandemic has been particularly hard for older youth in foster care and those who have recently aged out of the system . They ’ re not only facing isolation but staggering levels of job loss and food insecurity . …”
Dr . Dawnté Early CEO , United Way California Capital Region
care programs over the past 20 years and has set up nearly 1,500 individual development accounts , or IDAs , since 2011 for foster youth who are emancipated or have aged out . Every dollar the foster youth saves in the IDA is matched with the help of United Way partner agencies and can be used for specific expenses such as transportation , education , computers and health insurance .
April Levingston has seen from a unique perspective how vulnerable foster youth are to a life of incarceration . She is a former San Quentin State Prison guard who heard inmates ’ stories as she worked death row and she ’ s also been a foster mom , including for a foster son who got into trouble with the law but has since straightened out his life and is taking care of his two children .
Those experiences inspired her to start Sacramento Resources Community Foundation , a nonprofit that is still getting off the ground but has the mission of educating foster youth about the resources available to them and helping them succeed . Members of her board are serving as mentors and helping foster youth find employment .
“ No one ever talked to them about putting a resume together , interviewing , how to go look for that job ,” Levingston says . “ So they are just out there dangling , and I don ’ t want them to dangle anymore .”
Breaking the Cycle Shelly Bokman is the founder and program director at Blossom Place , which offers housing and one-on-one support services for young women and their children in Auburn . She has also been a foster mom for dozens of kids over the years .
“ We take girls from 18 to 24 , so some girls will come to us at 20 or 21 , and maybe they have a job and they have a car , but they just need help figuring out how to manage their money and make it all work ,” Bokman says . “ So they ’ ll come and they may just be with us for a short time so they can kind of get their feet on the ground and get some confidence that they really can take care of themselves .”
May 2022 | comstocksmag . com 77