L.A. County Targets Poor Outcomes of Older Foster Youth

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors endorsed a plan calling for the county’s chief executive office and the Office of Child Protection to create a comprehensive county-wide strategy to address the needs of transition-age foster youth.

Introduced by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Hilda Solis, the motion aims to alleviate some of the difficulties foster youth face navigating the hard transition into adulthood.

Barger said that while the county has made investments in initiatives like workforce development, addressing homelessness and extending mental health services, it must ensure that older foster youth are able to benefit from these efforts.

“We have approximately 800 foster youth who emancipate out of the county’s system of care each year,” Barger said.Their outcomes do not reflect the resources that we have devoted towards supporting their success.”

Homelessness, a lack of educational attainment, high unemployment rates, unplanned pregnancies and increased risk of incarceration are recurring issues for youth ages 16 to 24 who have spent time in the county’s foster care system.

In California, foster youth can choose to remain in foster care until age 21 under certain rules.

The board motion calls for “a culture change countywide to integrate support for self-sufficiency of foster youth throughout all county services.”

Jennifer Lorson, a supervising attorney with the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles, said some efforts to address the needs of older foster youth in L.A. County have seen success, such as a dedicated courtroom for older foster youth at the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park.

But she said that significant gaps still remain in making sure that youth get the services they need after dealing with a history of abuse or neglect.

“Youth are still experiencing homelessness at such a high rate,” Lorson said. “They can lose their housing quickly for many reasons.

“It’s egregious that they get through the court system at age 18 and they still have not had the right services to make sure that they make it.”

In exploring ways to better serve transition-age youth, the board motion instructed the CEO and the Office of Child Protection to gather information about existing community projects that assist transition age youth, and identify potential opportunities to work with the philanthropic community.

According to some, the board should look to work already underway.

For example, the Los Angeles Performance Partnership Pilot — a collaborative effort between the county, the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Unified School District, several local community colleges and universities and more than 50 public, philanthropic and community-based organizations — recently released a strategic plan on how to serve disconnected youth.

Janis Spire, CEO of the Alliance for Children’s Rights, said the success of such work would hinge on the support of county departments, including the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), which oversees the county’s foster care system.

“Without [the involvement of] DCFS key decision makers, foster youth have little chance of benefiting from these cross-sector efforts,” Spire said.

A report on the county’s new approach to working with transition-age foster youth is due back to the board in six months.

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Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Jeremy Loudenback, Senior Editor, The Chronicle of Social Change 351 Articles
Jeremy is a West Coast-based senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at jeremyloudenback@chronicleofsocialchange.org.