The Practice of Caring – Part 4

A Discussion on Social Justice
Jim Roberts
August, 4, 2021 -

The Family Care Network is in the business of providing Social Justice, i.e., what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance and protection of our most vulnerable populations; victims of neglect, abuse and social injustice. Social Injustice ravages the lives of children, youth and families across our society. It is our mission to solve or mitigate Injustice as we enhance the wellbeing of those we serve.

I have observed firsthand the heart wrenching, systematic Injustice perpetrated on foster youth as they age “out of the system.” For decades, these youth were treated as second-class citizens, basically pushed out the door with no resources, no money, no skills; with no family or support system, and left to fend for themselves. Be mindful, these are children who were removed from their families and placed in the foster care system through no fault of their own. They were victims of abuse, neglect and substantial trauma. How in a civilized society can we justify inflicting further trauma on children, discarding them like trash!

A prime example of this occurred in the early days of FCNI. We had a young lady referred to us for foster care in the Bay Area. Her parents were deceased, but she had a brother who lived in our area. Unfortunately, her brother and his wife were unable to care for her at that time. Luckily, we found a fantastic foster home for her and she did very well; graduating from high school with excellent grades and big hopes for her future. Her County of origin, however, required that we return her to them after she graduated, which coincided with her termination from the foster care system. When our worker arrived at the Bay Area Social Services building, they were instructed to put her on a bus to take her to a homeless shelter! Seriously, disgustingly. When I got their call describing the situation, I said ”####, no–bring her back.” Her foster mom graciously took her back without compensation. Eventually, her brother was able to secure a larger home and they were reunified.

Talk about an institutionalized formula for failure and heartbreak. Here is some recent research data on youth exiting the foster care system:

  • More than 23,000 children will age out of the US foster care system every year, 20% of which will become instantly homeless. (Like our girl would have)
  • Half of all youth who age out of foster care end up homeless or incarcerated within two years. 
  • Only half of all foster kids who age out of the system will have gainful employment by the age of 24.
  • Less than 3% of children who have aged out of foster care earn a college degree at any point.
  • Less than half of all foster youth graduate high school.
  • 75% of former foster females report at least one pregnancy by age 21, compared to 33% in the general population. 
  • By grade 11, only 20% of students in foster care are proficient in English, and only 5% are proficient in math.
  • 75% of students in foster care are performing below grade level.
  • In a 2013 FBI 70-city nationwide sex trafficking raid, 60 percent of the victims came from foster care or group homes. In 2014, New York authorities estimated that 85 percent of sex trafficking victims were previously in the child welfare system, i.e., foster care.
  • Former foster youth are four times more likely to commit or attempt suicide

We literally created a public funded system which promotes child victimization and forces former foster youth to become consumers of public resources. According to the Annie E Casey Foundation, if aged out foster youth had the same outcomes as non-foster youth, the US taxpayers would annually save $4.1 billion.

This horrific system was another primary motivator for me to start the Family Care Network. Social Justice says, “foster youth deserve to be treated with respect and be provided every opportunity for success as any other youth in society!”

Right from the beginnings of FCNI, I was motivated to solve this problem for foster youth. I remember early Board meetings talking about being able to provide services, housing and aftercare support as a strategic goal–seemingly a “pie-in-the-sky” dream.

In 1987, Congress passed legislation creating the “Independent Living Program” (ILP) to help address this issue by providing education and transition planning to foster youth before they leave the system. California implemented their ILP program and I was selected to be one of the initial trainers for foster parents and youth here on the Central Coast. Over the years, I’ve been involved in training dozens of foster parents on how to prepare their youth to successfully exit the foster care system. Fast forward to today, FCNI is the ILP provider for every foster youth in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. Social Justice says, “every foster youth must be carefully guided to successful independent living!”

In the late 1990s, California launched a pilot “Transitional Housing Placement Program” (THPP) to serve foster youth ages 16-18 in a supportive independent housing model. Two agencies in the Bay Area were selected for the one-year pilot. FCNI was the first non-pilot agency to be licensed by the state to operate THPP. Today, we operate three supportive housing programs for current and former foster youth. The first, like the original, serves 16 and 17-year-olds. Our second serves 18-21-year-olds opting to remain in foster care, called Non-Minor Dependents (NMD), and our third is for former foster youth ages 18-24. These housing programs have been extraordinarily successful in transitioning youth from system dependency to self-sufficiency. Social Justice says, “every foster and former foster youth needs safe, supportive housing!”

As I mentioned in my previous article, a key ingredient to our Practice of Caring is providing treatment and counseling services to address trauma and develop skills for successful living. All of our Transitional Age Youth are able to receive a very broad array of services needed to heal and succeed. In addition to our Behavioral Health interventions, we provide a very comprehensive life skill development program. In fact, FCNI has created and published our Skills for LIFE BOOK, an evidence-based workbook covering nine essential critical life domains to guide Transitional Age Youth to competency within each life domain. Social Justice says, “every foster youth must be fully trained, equipped and prepared for successful independent living!”

Our work with current and former foster youth has really paid off. The high school graduation rate for San Luis Obispo County foster youth is the highest in the state--higher than that for the general population! Several years ago we made a strategic decision to stop promoting just college or higher education enrollment for our youth and instead increase our efforts to guide them towards careers that they want to pursue that will provide them with living wages and increased job satisfaction. Towards this end, we have created two unique mentoring opportunities. First, is a “Navigator” program where they can receive support and guidance from a community member in their first few years of their pursuits. Second, is “Career Mentoring” where they are provided the opportunity to learn directly from a person involved in the specific career they are interested in pursuing, learning first-hand what steps they need to take to achieve this goal. Both of these programs have been very effective. Social Justice says, “every foster youth deserves the opportunity to develop a career that they will enjoy and that will support them financially.”

Thirty-plus years later, little did our initial Board imagine that our “pie-in-the-sky” strategic objectives would become powerful, effective programs which are positively impacting the lives of thousands of foster youth who were once destined for failure. I believe this exemplifies Social Justice manifested through the Family Care Network’s Practice of Caring.