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CURRENT ISSUE:  May 8, 2006 • VOL. 44, NO. 9 • Oakland, CA

Emancipated foster youth are at great risk

For Doria Addison, it was one of the happiest days of her life. She held in her hand a high school diploma. She had overcome a lifetime of suffering in the foster care system and was graduating from high school with a 3.91 GPA.

But the day after graduation, Doria’s case worker knocked on her door and told her that she had now “graduated” out of the foster care system. She was given the names of homeless shelters to contact. She was on her own.

For some of the children growing up in the foster care system, this is all too common. As if these young people had not been dealt a difficult enough hand in life, at the age of 18 they are emancipated from the foster care system with little or no support.

Tehuley Banks, a case manager for Catholic Charities of the East Bay, sees this far too often.

“Emancipation can feel more like a crisis than a fresh start,” he said. “It means being completely cut off from public services—housing allowance, counseling, medical assistance and educational support.”

Unfortunately, by the time the teens reach 18, they often do not have the skills necessary to access and use the resources and services available to them.

Unlike their peers with a family support system, they seldom have had parental role models and now lack the guidance needed to transition into adulthood.

The transition is indeed painful for many. Consider these sobering facts:
• Thirty-three percent of foster youth will experience homelessness within the first year after they turn 18.
• Sixty percent of California youth leaving foster care need safe and affordable housing at the time of their emancipation.
• Fifty percent of emancipated teens are unemployed; those who are working earn on average $6,000 per year—a number well below the national poverty level of $7,890.
• Twenty-five percent of former foster youth will be incarcerated within the first two years after they leave the system.

Catholic Charities of the East Bay has been addressing the challenges of these emancipated foster youth for the past 4 years.
Today they provide comprehensive case management for 25 teens leaving the foster case system in Contra Costa County.

The goal is to help them successfully transition into independent, self-reliant adults.

Doria Addison is an example of what can happen when Catholic Charities steps in to help.

Doria’s difficulties began when, at the age of two, she was taken from her parent’s home because of drug abuse and neglect. For the next 14 years she was moved from one living situation to another. At one point she was placed with relatives who subsequently mentally and physically abused her.

She was removed from the home only to be placed into another abusive and neglectful household, where her newly appointed guardian would leave her with a variety of friends and family.
Fed up, Doria entered a group home at 16. Life did not get better.
Due to limited room and an often dysfunctional environment in the group homes, Doria moved seven times in less than 36 months.
Then she became pregnant, another reality for many foster care youth.

After graduation, Doria and her infant son took up a nomadic life, moving from shelter to shelter. Eventually she found Catholic Charities and Tehuley Banks. He offered her the same kind of individualized attention he gives to the other 24 emancipated foster youth on his caseload.

He helped her find subsidized housing and affordable day care for her two sons. She has joined a church that has been very supportive. She participates in the Welfare to Work program and is applying for jobs.

“I don’t know where I would be without Catholic Charities of the East Bay,” she said.

“I am so grateful to Tehuley who has been there for me every step of the way. He even drives me to appointments when I have problems with transportation.

"But most importantly, Tehuley is always present to listen and give constructive feedback and challenge me to realize my potential.

“He has inspired me to keep growing, not to dwell on the past, to become the lady that I am today.

"And now, for the first time in my life, I have dreams. I would like to go to college and become a social worker to help other foster youth.
I know firsthand how hard it is and I want my life to be an inspiration. I want to give them the resources and hope for a better life.”

(Adam See is director of development, marketing and public policy for Catholic Charities of the East Bay.)




Doria Addison

 

 

Costs of helping teens continues to grow

Catholic Charities of the East Bay has been providing case management services to emancipated foster youth for the past four years. Much of the funding for the program, which serves about 25 youth per year, comes from donors to CCEB’s annual appeal. Agency officials are worried that rising costs will force Catholic Charities to reduce its work with these teens while the need remains great.

At least 500 teens in the Bay Area are emancipated from foster care each year with about 125 of those living in Contra Costa County.

CCEB operates a transitional home in Pittsburg for five young adults, providing them with housing for up to a year while they develop the skills and resources to live on their own. Case managerTehuley Banks matches them with trained mentors, helps them find jobs and health care, and assists with applications for college and financial aid.
These are the same services Banks gives to all his clients.

CCEB receives some funding from Contra Costa County for the group home, and some small grants help pay for some aspects of the program, but most of the case management funding comes directly from Catholic Charities budget.

 

 


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