Giving Foster Youth a Chance

For far too long, young people in the county foster care system who suffer from substance abuse or mental health issues and who teetered on the edge of falling in trouble with the law, have had few resources to help them stay on the right side. For some, this dearth of assistance has had severe consequences as they age out of the foster system and in short order, wind up as wards of the County Probation Department. But now, the Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Mental Health and the Probation Department will be expected to coordinate with each other and follow up with the kids who need more guidance and help.

Led by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the board has asked for a substantive plan to coordinate services between the departments in order to improve treatment and tracking of youth in the foster care system and in the custody of probation. Within two months, there will be a written plan to implement a prevention pilot program that will allocate significant funding to help provide substance abuse treatment services and instruct psychiatric social workers to provide specific recommendations on the type of mental health services a youth needs and which agencies in the youth’s service area could provide such services.

In addition, the county is now working on suggested revisions to a state legislative bill that would prohibit the use of incriminating information obtained during a clinical review against a youth in any court proceeding.

This pilot program works in conjunction with an innovative program for Los Angeles County funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation which seeks to help foster youth transitioning to independence find the tools to finish school, get a job and work well with others.

According to a comprehensive study funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation transition-age foster youth confront a myriad of challenges in education, employment, health, mental health and earnings potential. The study found that 25 percent of foster youth are incarcerated by age 20; 65 percent leave foster care without a place to live and 27 percent of the homeless population spent time in foster care.

Less than one in ten former foster youth obtain a degree and within the four years after leaving foster care, more than half of youth have no earnings, and those who do average an income of only $7,500 per year.

“We need to help our most vulnerable youth reach their maximum potential,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “This segment of our population cannot be ignored. They need help becoming independent adults and this effort by Los Angeles County moves us one step closer to doing that.”