Meeting my father for the first time in 38 years forced me to think about the experience of many young adults who transition out of the foster care system and proceed through life without forging connections to caring adults.
I lost my mother in my youth and grew up without a father, but I was adopted by an older cousin and always had plenty of relatives and mentors who provided me with a stable, caring home and support that ultimately helped me persevere and prosper. The experience is much different however, for the more than 4,000 young adults who emancipate (age out) of the California foster care system at the age of 18 and are forced to live on their own without the benefits of family, support, or resources.
Many of these youth become homeless and in turn face other problems such as prostitution, drug addiction and incarceration. There are some programs to provide these youth with transitional housing and training to help them develop the life skills they need to live independently, but ultimately, need far outweighs the supply.
In spite of these challenges, there are ways to support emancipated youth that are not exclusively tied to funding. Specifically, host housing programs and mentoring programs can help.
Host housing programs allow caring adults in the community to house an emancipated youth in an extra room in their home and to provide some basic mentoring and life coaching support. In many California counties, these hosts qualify for small subsidies to help with food and incidentals. The hosts get help from social workers who provide training and support. These efforts make dramatically positive changes in the lives of both host and youth.
Opportunities exist in programs for everyday citizens to get involved in hosting emancipated youth or in helping them as mentors. These programs are part of a menu of services being used by child welfare advocates to help emancipated youth move from transition to permanency.
More and more child welfare systems are investing in programs to promote permanency—like “family finding,” where professionals trained in advance search techniques help youth locate extended family members who can be part of their extended network of caring adult supporters.
It is the goal of all child welfare systems to reduce the number of youth in foster care, to reduce the length of time youth remain in care and to help youth make permanent lifelong connections with caring adults.
Serving as a host or a mentor is an excellent way to pitch in while the child welfare system continues to make progress towards those goals.
Please consider becoming a host or mentor today. Your efforts will add tremendous value to the experience of a young person. Those interested in hosting or mentoring a young person or making donations to support housing programs should contact Beyond Emancipation at (510) 261-4102.
Beyond Emancipation is a nonprofit program that helps emancipated youth in Alameda County find housing, employment, health services, scholarships and other resources to support their independence.
Tony Thurmond is the Executive Director of Beyond Emancipation and a member of the Richmond City Council.