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Report: Foster-care should extend to 21

March 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Claiming the benefits outweigh the costs, a just-released report recommends California should extend foster-care payments for individuals as old as 20 years of age.Roughly 5,000 foster kids in California turn 18 each year and become too old to remain in the system.

It was a rude awaking for 20-year-old Kevin West of Santa Cruz, who was living in a group home.

"The day I turned 18, my staff made a cake for my birthday," said foster child Kevin West. "I had no idea I had to leave until that night. They're like: 'So what are you doing?' I'm all: 'Going to bed.' They're like: 'Not here!'"

Like so many other 18-year-old foster youths, West became homeless with no one to help him.

A new study out today by the University of Washington finds when a state extends benefits to these young adults until they're 21 years old, they fare much better in life.

  • They're three times more likely to enroll in college
  • They're 65 percent less likely to have been arrested
  • And are 38 percent less likely to become pregnant
"If we're going to operate a foster care system and take on this role, let's continue it into early adulthood, which is what we do with our kids," said Prof. Mark Courtney, University of Washington.

While some taxpayer groups bemoan the cost of expanding government services up to three more years for each child, the study points out the state saves money in the long run if that child is not in prison or on welfare.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing through a proposal to expand California's foster system until the child turns 21, which makes the state eligible for roughly $70 million a year in federal money.

"Foster youth need a safety net, and this legislation will allow us to extend that safety net to the age of 21," said Calif. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-L.A.).

Nineteen-year-old Montae Langston is one of those rare cases where perseverance landed him at UCLA. He wants it easier for other foster youth.

"It can be done, but with the system now, it's very, very unlikely that any foster youth can actually get to UCLA with all the systematic obstacles that are in place now," said Langston.


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