More than a year into California’s extension of its foster care system to age 21, a key proponent of the reform is surprised by the high rate of older youth being diverted to the least restrictive living arrangements. Meanwhile, a version of California’s wrap-around service model for aged-out foster youth has been slow to take hold.
The Supervised Independent Living Placement (SILP) allows youths to find their own accommodations and, subject to caseworker approval, receive a monthly payment of $776 to address rent and other living expenses.
There were 1,808 teens placed in SILPs as of July 2013, according to an annual report done by the John Burton Foundation, a child welfare advocacy group in the state.
“That was a big surprise,” said Amy Lemley, policy director for Burton, speaking to several hundred child welfare stakeholders on a web conference last week. “The SILP is something we envisioned as a [lesser]-used option. We hoped many of the kids would live with relatives,” or foster parents.
Assembly Bill 12, which was signed into law in 2010, paved the way for the state to offer continued foster care to youths between 18 and 21 through a matched-funding arrangement with the federal government. The federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act empowered the Department of Health and Human Services to reimburse states for such plans.
AB 12 took effect in January of 2012. Here is the breakdown of placements for 18- to 21-year-olds in California’s foster care system as of July:
- SILP: 1,808
- Foster care: 1,051
- Living with kin: 864
- Living in a group home setting: 663
- Ran away from placement: 289
- Transitional Housing Plus-Foster Care (THP-FC): 280
An additional 844 youths were in “Other” placements, a catch-all category that includes youths who elected to stay in care but could not be found in July, court-appointed homes, pre-adoption placements, and shelter care.
THP-FC was established in AB 12, along with SILPs, as foster care options only available for 18- to 21-year-olds. The SILP Program required little planning to implement, since it only requires a direct payment to youths and a monthly meeting with caseworkers.
THP-FC providers needed to be licensed before counties could contract with them, and the establishment of those licensing standards was delayed. The program, which grew out of the 15-year-old transitional housing movement in California, is meant to provide housing along with life skills, job training and other supports for youths who might not be ready to handle the independence offered by a SILP.
At the same time, the state eliminated the dedicated funding for THP-FC in a recent “re-alignment” of its Department of Social Services. The 2011 law bundled many of the department’s programs into one services account.
Each county now funds services for older foster youth out of its portion of the state account, and can elect to spend any amount it chooses (or none) on THP-FC. Contracts for the program are more expensive than SILPs, which require little overhead or administration.
After a year of slow development, THP-FC programs were serving only 134 youths as of January 2013. While it still serves only five percent of the growing older youth population, the number of participants had doubled to 280 by July of 2013.
The numbers suggest that THP-FC is serving a high number of youths with serious challenges. A quarter of the 280 participants are young women with children of their own; a third of the participants have been in trouble with the law.
Lemley said she hoped the number of youths in a THP-FC placement would reach 1,000 sometime in 2014. The prospect for that, she said, depends greatly on the number of licensed providers rising from its current mark of 25.
John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change