Foster Care Services: A Long, Hard Road to Improvement

When I started the Family Care Network in 1987, there was certainly a different approach and philosophy driving the foster care system. Looking back, it seems like the Stone Age. The system has come a long way but it has been a tough, hard row to hoe.

One of our first foster care placements was a teenage girl from a Bay Area county whose parents were deceased. She wanted to live near her brother, who resided in San Luis Obispo County. We were able to place her with an amazing lady who worked as an administrator for the former California Youth Authority facility in Paso Robles.

It was a great, successful placement until she turned 18. Then disaster struck. In essence, we were ordered to return her to the county social services headquarters at a certain date and time. When my social worker arrived with the young lady, she was horrified to learn that the young lady was going to immediately be loaded onto a bus and transported to a local homeless shelter. She was being discarded like a bag of trash. This was “the system’s” usual and customary practice!

I was contacted right away and said, “No way! Bring her back and we’ll figure something out.” Her foster mom was equally appalled, and quickly took her back in. Eventually, her brother and his wife were able to relocate to a larger home where she went to live.

This story had a good ending, but most other foster youth in such circumstances at the time ended up at the homeless shelters or worse.

It has always been disgusting and a mystery to me why our foster care system and society at large has treated foster youth as second-class citizens for so long. These children and youth have been twice victimized: first, through adverse childhood experiences beyond their control and second, by the system supposedly designed to protect and care for them.

Having served as a chief deputy and chief probation officer, the inappropriate treatment of foster youth was a major force behind my creating the Family Care Network. I was determined to help forge a solution.

The good news — even though slow in coming — is that positive changes in the treatment of foster youth have come and are even accelerating. The first major effort to help youth aging out of the foster care system was the federal Independent Living Initiative enacted by Congress in 1986, which allocated a portion of federal foster care funding for each state to implement ILP services.

That was replaced by Congress in 1999 with the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, monumental legislation and a major step forward in helping foster youth successfully exit the foster care system.

But the Chafee Act fell short in several ways. First, it was and has not been sufficiently funded to really accomplish its purpose. But more importantly, it was inconsistently and ineffectively implemented from state to state, and in states like California, from county to county. This design offers very little consistency from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Additionally, I feel one of the biggest impediments to establishing effective ILP services has come from the county social workers. The importance of these services for foster youth has not been taken seriously; instead being viewed as “another thing to do” by workers who exhibit a “coddle and protect” practice rather than “prepare and equip” one.

California has initiated their own excellent efforts towards assisting foster youth to make successful exits from the system. In the late 1990s, the Transitional Housing Placement Program (THPP) was enacted to serve foster youth ages 16 to 18. Several years later, the THP-Plus program was established to serve former foster youth between 18 and 24.

And in 2012, the Fostering Connections to Success Act (AB 12) was launched which allows youth to remain in the system and receive an array of services and supports up to age 21.

Family Care Network has provided services through all of these programs as they have evolved. All of these efforts have created much better outcomes for foster youth aging out of the system.

Successfully guiding foster youth to self-sufficiency and independence is very achievable. But it takes a strong commitment to the effort, patience and persistence, adequate public resources, and strong community partnerships.

Every youth who has had the misfortune in life to end up in the foster care system must be afforded the dignity, opportunity, guidance and services to achieve his or her dreams and aspirations. I am honored that Family Care Network has played a role in creating a model of this best practice.

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About Jim Roberts 19 Articles
Jim Roberts is the CEO and founder of the Family Care Network and a 43-year veteran of human services.

1 Comment

  1. CLARIFICATION: I do not want to imply that all social workers are “obstacles” to foster youth access to ILP, that is certainly not the case. The good news, since the advent of AB12, there has been a marked improvement in social worker training and practice in supporting foster youth.

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