African-American and other foster youth advocates are applauding Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pledge of $42 million in aid for foster youth during the COVID-19 pandemic. But many of them are warning that the money needs to come with a hold on emancipations, legal parameters and clearer guidelines for spending.
“Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, stable and nurturing environment free from fear, abuse and neglect,” said Newsom, speaking at his daily press conference April 13. “Our foster youth and the families who care for them need our support to get through this difficult time. We’re ramping up funding on initiatives that keep families together and support the social workers who provide critical services to help families thrive.”
Of that $42 million, a little over $1.8 million will go towards helping facilities take care of foster youth who otherwise might have aged out of the system.
“Approximately 200 young adults age out of the foster care system every month. Too many of them are at risk of homelessness and food insecurity,” the governor said. “During this crisis, foster care payments and eligibility will be extended to help them maintain their living arrangements and to provide food security.”
But advocates for the transition-aged youth population remain concerned about what may happen once the state’s shelter-in-place orders are lifted. They say factors like drug use, mental illness, and people who fail to successfully transition from youth foster care to adult independence, all contribute to the high rate of homelessness. And on top of that, they will be entering a shattered economy with limited job opportunities.
African-Americans in California are nearly 12 times more likely to be unsheltered than Whites. And according to Los Angeles County health officials, African-Americans are dying of COVID-19 at a higher rate than other racial groups. Although these findings are incomplete, they do reflect data regarding African-American COVID-19 mortality rates nationwide.
Every year, most states, including California, cut off financial support to about 5 percent of the children in foster care after they turn 18 years old.
Some former foster kids keep getting the money up to a year later: at 19 years old — that’s if they are still in high school.
But within just 18 months of their emancipation, about 40 to 50 percent of those young adults become homeless, according to Hope Forward, Inc., a non-profit that advocates for young adults previously in the custody of the state.
Shane Harris, CEO of the People’s Alliance for Justice (PAJ), a nationally known civil rights and social justice organization, has led the efforts in his region and statewide to shed light on what he calls one of the most vulnerable populations in the state. Harris is a former foster youth.
The PAJ along with the California Coalition for Youth and the University of San Diego Child Advocacy Institute, and others, asked Newsom to place a moratorium on foster youth emancipations for 180 days — or until the state chooses to rescind its emergency declaration.
“We believe that ceasing any unwanted emancipations until October 2020 would allow for the economy and other things to hopefully start recovering and would allow for those in our child welfare systems to have some level of stability at the time of emancipation,” Harris wrote in a letter to Newsom.
California’s pledged investments include:
• Supporting Families Struggling to Stay Together-$27,842,000
• Additional Social Worker Outreach-$6,896552
• Family Resource Centers-$3,000,000
• Expansion of Helplines-$250,000
• Age Extension of Foster Youth-$1,846,165
• Additional Support of Resource Family Impacted by COVID-19- $1,728,655
• Extended Timeframe for Caregiver Approvals- $166,000
• Access to Technology- $313,128