San Diego

Foster Youth Share Tough Transition Challenges at University of San Diego

A significant proposal was a program that would provide life coaches to offer more guidance to foster youth.

Foster youth explained the immense challenges facing teenagers who age out of the foster care system at the University of San Diego Friday.

"Right now, this time of year is a very difficult time for foster kids that are transitioning out of foster homes and into the real world. I know how scary it is and I was there," said San Diego Councilmember Lorie Zapf at the event.

"We call them kids – [ages] 18 to early 20s – but when you’re just aged out of foster care and you’re scared, you don’t have a place to live or job skills, you don’t have a plan B, you don’t have parents to go back to, it is a very difficult time."

Half of the young adults who age out of foster care upon turning 18 won't receive a high school diploma, leave foster care without employment and are left homeless, according to a representative for Zapf. 

Sixty percent of the girls who leave foster care become pregnant within two years.

Raul Enciso, a former foster youth, explained how without the support of foster youth programs such as Promises to Kids and Just in Time, he would have been left without a place to live.

"About four years ago I was a freshman at UCSD, and after my first year and summer I actually was homeless, because once you hit summer there’s no housing for all the resident’s halls. They kick you out," said Enciso.

USD's Children Advocacy Institute (CAI) shared a proposal at the meeting to provide transition age foster youth with a transitional life coach, according to the representative. The life coach would take on the role of a parent by giving personal guidance and career advice to a foster youth.

About 300 foster children must try to become self-sufficient adults as soon as they turn 18 every year in San Diego, according to the representative. Often they lack the job skills, financial savings and support system necessary to overcome many hurdles to gain employment.

Zapf says San Diego is way ahead of other cities regarding the number of resources and caring individuals who support foster youth. But one of the problems that still remains is the kids don't always know what's available to them.

Some of the foster youths at the event explained that by the time they learned of the available resources it was too late to use them.

A Price Professor in Public Interest Law at USD, Robert Fellmath, explained that the median age of self-sufficiency is 26, and most parents still contribute some financial support to their children well after they reach age 18.

"These are our children, in a very real legal, direct sense," said Professor Fellmath. "And so we have to parent them in a responsible way."

"We haven't been doing that. We've been abandoning them at [age] 18 or 21," said Fellmath.

The effort to raise awareness of the daunting challenges facing foster youth was spearheaded by Zapf and USD's CAI. According to the representative, the event followed a morning roundtable with foster organizations serving the Transition Age Youth (TAY) population.

"We’re trying to bring awareness to the situation and ask for people to step up and help these kids," said Zapf.

Professor Fellmath also mentioned that it's been well-documented that supporting these youth until they reach self-sufficiency saves the state money. That's because it reduces the likelihood that foster youth will end up in the prison system, where it is more expensive to maintain them.

The meeting was located at the Warren Hall Law School Front lawn on the 5000 block of Alcala' Park.

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