by Tia Will
In response to the recent Vanguard article “If We’re Going to Focus on Healthy Children, Let’s Get to the Core Issues” a poster wrote:
“Children are almost always very attached to their parents. Taking them away from their parents is a terribly traumatic situation, which may haunt and hinder them for their entire lives…Much better to educate, support, monitor, and/or threaten the parents than to do lasting harm by taking kids away from them. And, would foster care be any better? It’s not often that foster care is beneficial to children.”
One core issue determining the lifetime success of a child is who provides the basic parenting.
Coincidentally, one day later, I received my copy of UC Davis Magazine. One of the featured articles was “Beating the Odds” which focuses on the success of one of the approximately 100 students who have been helped to graduate from UCD by the Guardian Professions Program. According to the article this is the first, and only program of its kind in the nation dedicated to helping former foster children pursue a professional or graduate degree. This coincidence prompted me to look into the core issues faced by foster children in our city and county.
In 2013, in California, there were a total of 58,699 children in foster care. In Yolo County the number was 246. Eighty-three percent were removed from their homes due to neglect, nine percent due to physical abuse, and two percent due to sexual abuse.
According to the Yolo County Department of Employment and Social Services (see: here) a child must leave the foster care program to live independently at age 18. In order to ease this transition Child Welfare Services has a program designed to aide the child in learning the skills necessary for independent living. Yolo County has instituted an Independent Living Program, run through DESS, which provides youth access to training, support, community services and resources. Foster youth can participate in the program as early as age 15 to begin to develop life skills such as budgeting, finding and keeping a job, and doing laundry. DESS offers incentives to encourage these teenagers to participate in the program. Youth continue to be eligible for services after emancipation until they are 21 years of age, as long as they were in out-of-home care on, or after, their 16th birthday. These services provide youth between the ages of 18 and 20 the assistance necessary to obtain resources such as transportation, tuition for college or vocational education, clothing for job interviews, furniture and other household supplies, or in making a security deposit toward a living arrangement.
According to DESS Chief Deputy Diana Williams: “Studies show that on average, the young are not truly on their own until age 28…Foster children don’t generally have the support system they need to bridge them from childhood to adulthood. We do what we can to provide it for them.”
A 2006 study by Pecora and colleagues tracked outcomes of 659 young adults and found that while, “Foster care alumni completed high school at a rate comparable to the general population…a disproportionately high number of them completed high school via a GED.” Alumni completion rates for postsecondary education were low. Consequently, many alumni were in fragile economic situations: one-third of the alumni had household incomes at or below the poverty level, one-third had no health insurance (pre-ACA), and more than one in five experienced homelessness after leaving foster care. Two aspects of the foster care experience were estimated to significantly increase success in the Education domain: positive placement history (e.g., high placement stability, few failed reunifications), and having broad independent living preparation (as exemplified by having concrete resources upon leaving care). For the Employment and Finances outcome domain, receiving broad independent living preparation (as exemplified by having concrete resources upon leaving care) was estimated to significantly reduce the number of undesirable outcomes.
These undesirable outcomes were outlined in a second study by George and colleagues, from 2002 (here). The main findings were:
- Youth aging out of foster care are underemployed. No more than 45 percent of the aging out youth have earnings during any one of the 13 quarters of the study. This is also the case for reunified youth. A slightly larger proportion of low-income youth has earnings, but never more than 50 percent.
- Patterns of unemployment vary by state. About 23 percent of youth aging out of foster care in California had no earnings during the entire 13-quarter period.
- Youth who do work begin to do so early. Youth were more likely to earn income for the first time during the four quarters prior to and the quarter of their eighteenth birthday than in the 2 years following. For youth who exited foster care by aging out, half in California had earnings prior to their eighteenth birthday. The aging out group is more likely to work than the reunified group in California. In California if youth did not work prior to exit, there was slightly more than a 50-50 chance that they would begin employment after exit.
- Youth aging out of foster care have mean earnings below the poverty level. Youth aging out of foster care earn significantly less than youth in any of the comparison groups both prior to and after their eighteenth birthday. Average quarterly earnings do grow significantly from the 4 quarters prior to the eighteenth birthdays to the 8 quarters after it. These youth average less than $6,000 per year in wages, which is substantially below the 1997 poverty level of $7,890 for a single individual.
- Youth aging out of foster care progress more slowly in the labor market than other youth. Low-income and aging-out youth in California see a larger increase in their earnings than reunified youth.
While these efforts on the part of DESS and the foster parents are badly needed, they do not come even close to providing the benefits that many children will obtain from an intact family, This means that these children and young adults, through no fault of their own, are at a distinct disadvantage not only in terms of having less opportunity to learn basic life skills in general and may be especially disadvantaged in terms of their ability to transition to a competitive academic setting.
This is where the Guardian Professions Program may provide the difference between success and failure in the academic setting. The program was initially made possible by a $450,000 dollar grant form the Stuart Foundation along with support from Sleep Train, the Kronick, Moskowvits, Tiedmann and Firard law firm, and the California Wellness Foundation. The program is designed to provide emotional, academic and financial support to former foster youth. This is one of a series of programs at UCD for foster youth in need of additional support.
These include :
- Cal Aggie Camp, founded in 1961 and maintained by UCD philanthropy, which serves more than 150 children from the foster care system and underserved communities at summer camps at no cost to parents, agencies, or foster parents.
- Guardian Scholars, which provides comprehensive services to maximize educational opportunities for former foster youth seeking undergraduate degrees.
- The Guardian Teacher Scholarship, which supports former foster youth seeking a career in teaching in California.
- The Guardian Professions Program, which provides funding to students pursuing any advanced degree.
My view of these programs is that they are sorely needed, and given that, as of 2014, there appears to be only one in existence, we are failing dramatically at providing these kinds of services through philanthropy alone. Even as an alumni of UCD, I was unaware of the existence of this program. Since we are seeking to leverage the academic excellence and financial potential of the university to provide additional financial benefit to the city, would it not be worth our efforts to help support our youth through the local support of this program and encourage its expansion to other universities ? Perhaps we could think more broadly of UCD as a leader not only in agriculture , biology, medicine, and other academic disciplines, but also in its support of some of our most disadvantaged youth and promote the expansion of these efforts as much as we are promoting our economic success.