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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Foster Care Youth Graduating Face Grim Transition to Adulthood

Foster Care Youth Graduating Face Grim Transition to Adulthood
by John Hitchcock

June is a milestone month for many high school seniors, celebrating graduation, taking senior trips and preparing for college. At the same time, 20,000 foster care youth age out of or emancipate from foster care each year. Of those youth, one-fifth or 4,000 youth, who turn 18 and graduate from high school live in California, leave the foster care system with little to no support, and 65% of these youth do so without a place to live.

Many of these youth with histories of abuse and neglect never reunite with their families or find alternative permanent homes. Forty percent of emancipated foster youth become homeless within three years. In Los Angeles and Alameda counties, 50% of emancipated youth will be homeless within six months, according to Covenant House of California.

Unfortunately, youth who emancipate from foster care face disproportionately higher rates of unemployment, incarceration, substance abuse, non-marital childbirth, lower education attainment, dependence on public assistance, and other high-risk behaviors. Unlike those high school graduates who have a family support system, emancipated foster youth lack the encouragement, self-esteem, protection and financial support that accompany family life.

Staff at nonprofit organizations and foundations along with elected officials are working together to reduce the risk factors for foster youth who face a challenging transition to adulthood. Programs such as Hillsides Youth Moving On, a transitional living program that provides quality, affordable housing to twenty former foster youth who are eligible, are helping them transition into adulthood successfully.

Initiating legislation to combat the grim futures for foster youth, United States Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced the Foster Care Continuing Opportunities Act, which would provide federal funding to States to continue providing essential foster care services such as food, housing, and legal services to youth over the age of 18, which are currently inaccessible to young adults aging out of foster care.

Online resources like is a national network for foster children and youth providing a wealth of information to help prepare them for emancipation. Another source is United Friends of the Children, that provides advice and tips for former foster youth. Life skills are essential in preparing foster youth and has assessments and tools to help them out.

For emancipated foster youth graduating from high school, June is a milestone month--a month that marks the end of their foster care journey and the beginning of a daunting transition to adulthood as the statistics indicate. Their primary concern after graduation is to find a roof over their heads. As adults we can make a difference to ease this transition for foster youth. The resources mentioned are a great starting point to do just that.
As a licensed clinical social worker, John Hitchcock is the executive director of Hillsides, a Pasadena charity that creates safe places for children in foster care living in its residential treatment center and prevents the cycle of abuse for children at risk and their families. Hitchcock is an expert on child welfare issues and has a blog,, addressing foster care and child advocacy issues. To learn m

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