Foster Care Counts

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1 Submitted Idea

  • 2013 Grants Challenge

    Virtual Mentor Program for Foster and Atrisk Youth

    I would use $100,000 to shape the future of Los Angeles by applying this money to the development and implementation of the Foster Care Counts Virtual Mentor Program that is currently being conceived by Foster Care Counts, a 501c3 corporation whose mission is to improve the lives of foster youth in Los Angeles County. Although I believe that a mentor can help a foster or at-risk youth with any if not all of the challenge areas proposed in LA2050, I propose that Foster Care Counts’ Virtual Mentoring Program will create positive change in the area of education, as educational achievement continues to be one of the major impediments foster youth face in our country today. Although 70% of our nation’s foster youth desire to go to college, only 3% of them are able to graduate with a degree. After fully developing a best-practices virtual mentor program, I propose to use this funding to pilot a mentoring program to assist current and former foster youth to both enter as well as remain in the following postsecondary educational institutions in Los Angeles: UCLA, Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles Trade Tech Community College, and Cal State Los Angeles. Background There are currently more than 400,000 foster youth in our country today, and approximately 20,000 of them reside in Los Angeles. This is by far the highest number of foster youth living in any city in the United States. Having been removed from the homes of their biological parents due to abuse and neglect, either through the criminal justice system or LA County Social Services, these children become wards of the state. As decisions and resources available to raise them are now dictated by taxpayer votes and dollars, we, as taxpayers, have now become the parents of these children who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves homeless, voiceless, and powerless. Foster children are much more likely to experience the consequences of not only abuse and neglect than the general population, but face serious impediments to the ability to grow and mature to live stable, adaptive lives in rates that are astonishingly higher than their non-foster peers. Upon becoming legal adults, usually at the age of 18, foster youth are no longer protected by the foster care system, and face disproportionate rates of homelessness, unemployment, inadequate education, poverty, and physical and mental health problems when compared with their non-foster peers. For example, according to Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, The United States Department of Health and Human Services, Casey Family Programs, and the Hilton Foundation, in 2011 approximately 22% of former foster youth were experiencing homelessness compared with .04% of the general population, 52% of former foster youth were unemployed compared to 9% of the population at large, 33% were living below the poverty level compared with 15% of the greater population, 57% of former foster youth have had at least one mental health diagnosis compared with 26% of the general population, and somewhere between 25-35% of former foster youth have been incarcerated compared with 2.7% of the general population. (Barbell & Freundlich, 2001; Culhane, Metraux, Byrne, Moreno, & Toros, November 2011; Marian, Lovie, Kirk, & Peter, 2009; Munson & McMillen, 2009; P. J. Pecora et al.; P. J. J. P. S. R. L. H. L. J. O. A. Pecora, 2009; Trout, Hagaman, Casey, Reid, & Epstein; Zima et al., 2000) Moreover, the average number of placements in different foster homes for these youth is 7, and many foster youth experience as many as 12 separate foster placements before they reach age 18. 65% of former foster youth experienced seven or more school changes before 12th grade, less than 60% of foster youth graduate high school, and although 70% of foster youth would like to and/or plan to attend college, approximately only 3% graduate college, as compared to the national average of about 30%. Of the foster youth who do enter college, almost a full 100% are unprepared academically and do not possess the independent living skills necessary to matriculate successfully through college without the support network of a family. There is a tremendous amount of peer-reviewed literature analyzing both the barriers to as well as protective factors that enable foster youth to succeed in their ability to grow up, become educated, and lead constructive lives as adults. In fact, foster youth probably suffer from significant lags in most if not all of the challenge areas included in LA2050, and could benefit from assistance directed toward each one of these arenas. I believe that a mentor would have the flexibility to be able to assist foster youth in many if not most of these challenges, and that if the foster youth population could be significantly assisted, we might see other at-risk populations become included into this model, with the ability to positively impact the statistics in each of the LA2050 challenge areas.