(Photo by Donte Kirby)
Congratulations, it’s your 18th birthday.
- Scenario one — You’ve been accepted to Temple University, but you have less than $300 to your name, and you’ve aged out of your group home and foster care.
- Scenario two — You’ve received an extension to stay at your current group home where you’ve had difficulties. You can’t transfer because all other group homes are filled. The conditions of the extension are to either work 40 hours a month or be enrolled in a school or trade program. You’re dealing with either scenario with no family connections or resources.
When attendees entered State of Young Philly’s panel about the state of foster care in the city, they were faced with one of those two scenarios in a small birthday card. The 841 youth projected to age out Pennsylvania’s foster care system between 2015 and 2016, according to the state’s needs-based budget, have to face those types of decisions when they turn 18.
Journalist Solomon Jones moderated the panel discussion about how to fill the gaps in the foster care system that allow 25 percent of those who age out to be incarcerated within the first two years and 33 percent to live below the poverty line. The panel included reps from foster youth-supporting coffee shop Monkey & the Elephant; social service provider Turning Points for Children (TPS); minority bar group Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia (BAP); and public interest law firm Juvenile Law Center.
The primary difference between success and failure on an individual level, as articulated by the panel, is the building of human connections and support systems or a network. The current system can be counterproductive to that building.
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“I think people want to think that the system has the ability to raise a child,” said panelist Elizabeth Wendel, a member of Monkey & the Elephant’s board of directors and assistant director of the “Family Finding” program at TPS. “And that’s simply not true. While there are a lot of good things in place, we need a better way to facilitate true emotional connections that help young people transition into successful adulthood.”
There were 427,910 children in foster care last year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 2015 reports, and it costs seven to 10 times more to place a child in alternative care such as a group home than to place them with a family. But the success or failure of getting adequate funding for foster care programs could hinge on bipartisan agreement.
“Politics make strange bedfellows,” said panelist Kevin Harden Jr., an attorney at the law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott and president of BAP:
“The truth of the matter is we have to identify trends in narratives through the data that we deal with and make these things an issue for the presidential administration.”
If Wendel were to have that bipartisan conversation, she said, she would frame it like this:
“Do you want to spend and invest some money now to create a system that can help young people quickly become successful adults, or do you want to deal with all of the issues that are going to happen later on because you didn’t invest, which is going to cost you hundreds of millions more dollars in 10 years? You decide.”
Check out the full audio from the panel below.