Youth from ages 16 to 21 struggle to access any resources available to them during and after foster care. Most people would think that foster youth are accessing the majority of local county resources. Unfortunately, they are not. When foster youth do access these resources, there is still a lack of fulfillment of their needs even after they have met the requirements for eligibility, which surprises many people.
Local county resources are only available to a certain number of foster youth. The problem is that foster youth are supposed to have equal access to resources. But the numbers do not reflect this. If a transition-age youth program is promoting equality amongst foster youth, shouldn’t their access to resources also be equal? It is understandable that the resources were not established to support all foster youth as the case building is not controlled. But it should be able to support the majority of the foster youth population since these programs pitch that the youth can receive an abundance of resources. Since the youth are not aware that the resources available are scarce, they continue to try to gain access to funds that may not be available to them.
To combat the limitations of the established resources for foster youth, there are stipulations that youth must follow in order to receive the funds. I attended a meeting representing my organization as a peer advocate where the Independent Living Program (ILP) presented and explained how they allocated resources to foster youth. The expectation was that it is the youth’s responsibility to gain access to the funds. I agree that the youth need some challenges when trying to obtain resources so that they can become prepared for the real world. However, the problem is that when the youth jump through the hurdles, some are still seeing that the funds have not been distributed to them in a reasonable time. The requirements are tedious and the wait time delays distribution of funds. This can deter or discourage the youth from the program, adding to other challenges of being a youth in foster care.
As an advocate for foster youth, I understand the many challenges of getting resources for this population. Many of the solutions are like putting a band-aid on an open wound. Overall, local counties do not want to admit that there are limitations to youth gaining access to these funds. Part of the limitations includes the funds to case ratio. The number of open cases — not to mention the number of youth in each case — does affect the funding if the cases are eligible. Other issues with getting funds include short staff, staff negligence due to short staff, lack of remaining funding, and/or the youth did not meet requirements. Sometimes youth have a need and have intentions of meeting requirements but have technical issues that make them ineligible.
Since 2012, policymakers have extended the eligibility to 21 with the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, also known as AB12. Some housing programs have also extended the age eligibility up to 24 years old. There are a lot of youth who missed out on the benefits of the extension of housing age eligibility because they emancipated before the policy went into effect. I was one of those youth. Although there have been many changes and upgrades since I was emancipated in 2010, youth still experience delays and sometimes even no payment. The runaround is the worst because the youth will still be expecting the funds. They also do not get an explanation for missing payments they were counting on. This causes stress and anxiety in the youth who do not have many ways to obtain resources. This may cause them to resort to other means of obtaining the funds and resources they were promised.
I was forced to take out loans while I was attending California State University, Sacramento. My ILP coordinator said that in order for me to receive their funds, I would have to take out a student loan. Basically, she told me to take out the loans so that I would not rely on their limited funding. I did not understand at first but I trusted her. I did not have a lot of adults that I trusted and felt like I had to do it on my own. The stress got to me and I realized later that I could have possibly made a mistake. I did not want to take out the loan for the simple fact that I felt that I did not really need it with all the resources that were available to me. I also did not want to be in debt. I graduated in 2015 and six years later, I am still paying back a $15,000 loan. I am grateful for all the scholarships and resources I did receive, but it was not enough to keep me out of debt.The lack of access to resources create additional difficulties for foster youth, who are made to feel that they should be grateful these resources even exist. I’ve realized they’re not always enough.