Each year, more than 20,000 foster youth leave the system after turning the legal age of 18. It is true in both Japan and U.S. that normal teens have difficulty becoming independent right after turning 18 without parental help. During the 80’s, American people started paying attention to the harsh reality of foster youth leaving the care at age 18 without adult support. In 1986, the federal government revised part of social security law, and established a specific funding called “Independent Living Program (ILP)” and started providing foster youth a variety of services. Each youth was assigned an ILP case manager who provided the youth with services which might include help in completing education and finding a job or instruction in basic skills needed to live on their own. In 1999, the ILP was extended to provide services for foster care alumni between ages 18 and 21 (John Chafee Foster Care Independence Program). Many states offered transitional apartments for the youth.
Despite the above legislative changes, statistics on foster youth and alumni reveal serious problems that they are facing. One study shows that an average foster youth at age 17 only has 7th grader reading ability. Foster youth’s high school drop rate is over 30 %. Only one in 4 has a steady job. One out of two females, and one out of 4 males receive public assistance and at least 10 percent of foster care alumni are homeless. 20 % have arrest records.
When young foster children are not returned to their parents within a year or two, their permanency is guaranteed with adoption or guardianship. When a foster child turns 12, his or her chances of being adopted are greatly reduced. Just like young ones, foster youth long for human relations and family-like environment that provide them with love and protection.
California Youth Connection (CYC) is a youth-led leadership and advocacy organization. The organizations young members submit new legislative proposals as lobbyists to the California government for the betterment of the foster care system.
With the passage of Assembly Bill 1412.and due to the CYC’s action, California acknowledged foster youth’s critical need for permanency and involvement in the development of their permanency plan. AB 1412 requires social workers to ask all foster youth, not just those in group homes, about who is important to them, and take action to maintain those relationships. AB 1412 also gives youth the right to be involved in the plans for their life and well-being by allowing them to have input into and participate in the development of their permanency case plan after the age of 12. CYC became a national model of youth-led leadership organization, and many other states have developed similar organizations.
In recent years, issues with LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) foster youth have become ever more apparent. These foster youth are exposed to violence and discrimination at schools and in communities. Some LGBTQ youth were unjustly asked to leave their foster homes. Providing safe environment and guaranteeing these youth’s rights will be a future challenge for child protection.