03 Sep Why Labor Day Is Just Another Day for the Invisible Homeless
Labor Day is an appropriate holiday to point out that unemployment or severe underemployment among youth formerly in foster care is topped only by those with disabilities. In some states it exceeds 60%, and I suspect based on what I heard from the kids themselves this summer that it’s actually even higher. Young people are exiting the foster care system — at age 18 in all but a handful of states — with few resources. More than 30,000 kids age out of foster care each year. Most do so without a single safe and caring adult in their lives and ill-prepared to successfully navigate the world of work. Fewer than half have their high school diplomas and yet 90% of the available jobs have that as a minimum requirement. Only 3% of all youth in care going on to college, and only 3% successfully graduate, which again limits opportunities. The U.S. Military is now severely limiting the number of soldiers it will accept who have G.E.D.s to less than 1% of those enlisted, and the Air Force won’t accept candidates with GEDs at all.
In this recent government study, the statistics on unemployment among young adults who were in foster care are truly horrifying: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/08/fosteremp/
This study looked at young adults ages 18-24 who had been in foster care and compared their employment records and wages earned to that of both the general population and those coming from generational poverty. No matter the comparison, in all the states that the researchers studied youth formerly in foster care often failed to find a job at all, and when they did, their earning were one-third of what their peers made at age 24.
In virtually all states, kids age out of the foster care system at age 18. At age 17 1/2 there is a meeting where they are asked to inform the state of what they intend to do once they turn 18. If they are on target educationally — still pursuing their high school diplomas or a GED or higher ed — they have the option of “signing back into care” with that state’s independent living program (ILP). Again, this is all general, because laws and rules vary from state to state. However, many state’s ILP budgets have severely cut the aid that the kids get through that program, so again the level of support varies all over the place. Plus, many kids are so sick of the system at that point that the last thing in the world that they would do is sign themselves back in. After all, they are teenagers, and they are itching for independence anyway. Few understand the benefits of signing themselves back in the system — stable housing, money for college and the like. Rarely does anyone sit down with them and tells them the consequences of signing themselves out without an achievable plan of action in place. That’s how so many of them wind up homeless, forced into prostitution, drug or alcohol addicted, or in jail. And if you sign yourself out, it’s virtually impossible to sign yourself back in, though Georgia just announced that it is now offering a six-month grace period where a young person will supposedly have an easier time with that process.
Here are some of the big issues our kids deal with:
* They age out without having proper IDs, so they cannot get jobs/register for school.
* They almost never have been able to get part-time jobs while they are in the system due to lack of access to transportation, spotty academic records, few activities on their applications, etc.
* They are at high risk for identity theft as a result of so many people having access to their information, so they age out only to find that enormous debts have been run up in their names. That limits their ability to get a job, an apartment, or a student loan.
* Girls in foster care are six times more likely to be teenage moms than their peers. Being a single mom makes it much more likely that you will spend your life in poverty, because you are struggling to find childcare and are only able to qualify for an entry level job.
* Only 3% go on to higher education, and only 3% of that number graduate from college. During college breaks, those who have managed to make it into school often wind up homeless and without food, because the dorms and cafeterias close.
* Some states still have laws on the books that criminalizes running away, so our kids often have records.
* Children in foster care are 10 times more likely to be prescribed psychotropic drugs, which again limits their employability and precludes military service, which many youth in care tend to look at as one of their main options.
These are just a few of the reasons that cause our kids to be set up for failure rather than set up for self-sufficient lives as productive members of our communities. Our teens are just like any other teenager — they want part-time jobs and internships. They want opportunities. Get involved with kids in foster care living in your community. Together we can find solutions that will help transform lives.