“We as a community cannot stand by and watch our older former foster youth fail.”
by Jaci Johnson
As the nation adapts to the new normal during this time of uncertainty, things begin to look a little different than they did before. Restrictions have been placed on travel, families are quarantined together or apart and jobs have been lost or moved to remote locations. We have all been affected by the current circumstances, but there is a vulnerable population of older youth transitioning out of foster care who desperately need love, support and guidance now more than ever so that they do not fall victim to the grim circumstances they often have to face.
According to the National Foster Youth Institute, the statistics in the United States for older youth aging out of the foster care system for the first time are staggering. Twenty percent of youth at the age of 18 instantly experience homelessness, only one out of two older youth will find a form of gainful employment and less than three percent of former foster youth will graduate with a college degree. These are only some of the many harsh realities associated with youth leaving the foster care system, so it is not uncommon for the odds to already be stacked against them upon their first steps into society. With over 23, 000 youth aging out of the system every year in the United States, and approximately 200 young adults transitioning out every month in the state of California, there has never been a more crucial time than now to reach out and support them as they venture along their journey to self-sufficiency.
Ventura County Children and Family Services’ Homes with Heart VC provides resources and support to young adults between the ages of 16 and 21 through the agency’s Independent Living Program (ILP). The program was launched in 1986 by the federal government to enable state child welfare agencies to meet the needs of older youth transitioning from the foster care or juvenile justice system to independent living. Homes with Heart VC’s ILP program provides essentials including resources to help apply for higher education, job opportunities, annual health examinations, housing support, transportation and other important essentials such as food and clothing for young adults who have recently emancipated or are transitioning to self-sufficiency. The agency has also created an online assistance form that can be accessed at HomeswithHeartVC.org/ilp, where older former youth in foster care can request important essentials needed during their first steps into society.
While many of these young adults have beat the odds and built independence and resilience during their transition out of the foster care system, they are still in dire need of necessities many of us take for granted every day: avenues to higher education, employment and financial stability and, most importantly, a family that provides unconditional love and support. All these elements are of the utmost importance for older youth to embark on a successful future.
We as a community cannot stand by and watch our older former foster youth fail. We need to stand together now and create a network of support for these young adults who need our support to create meaningful relationships and propel them into a life filled with independence and opportunity. There are countless avenues the community can take to get involved and many nonprofit organizations have already graciously stepped up to the plate and provided essential resources and support in Ventura County, including Children Services Auxiliary, James Storehouse, Child Hope Services, RaisingHOPE, Women of Substance Men of Honor (WOSMO) and Shelter Care Resources, to name a few.
We urge additional families, businesses and nonprofits to come forward and get involved to support our youth as they journey out on their own. There are so many ways to show you care. If you have a business you can offer discounts on goods and services, provide mentorship or even offer job opportunities to give our youth a platform to thrive. If you have love in your heart and room in your home, you can provide stability while they get on their feet and offer your guidance and support to keep them on the right track. You can find additional information about the many ways to show your support for our incredibly resilient youth at HomeswithHeartVC.org. Help us create a brighter future for the youth in our community who weren’t given the best circumstances to begin with. Let’s make a difference in their lives today. We are all in this together!
Jaci Johnson is a Program Coordinator III in Recruitment for the County of Ventura, Human Services Agency. homeswithheartvc.org