Diamond Hyman is an upbeat teen whose reading interests include theology and entrepreneurship. In the California foster care system since age 3, she is now 19. She tried living on her own when she turned 18 but ended up homeless. Since California law allows foster youth to have access to services and facilities until age 21, she requested to be brought back in.
Diamond’s case typifies the system’s big issue: Long-term home placement of foster kids—especially those with behavioral problems—is a slow process, even with money earmarked for recruiting foster parents. It means several thousand youth are saturating the state’s system of short-term facilities.
“The bottom line is the placements aren’t there,” said Maire Mullaly, an attorney representing youth in California’s temporary facilities.
In March 2016, Los Angeles County shut down its emergency one-day “welcome centers” and moved to a system of privately managed, three-day shelters for foster kids.
But an extra two days in transitional housing is unrealistic in a slow-process system, said Michael Nash, former presiding judge of Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Court. And many kids cycle through the shelters repeatedly, so youth often end up overstaying by weeks and months. Data shows that about 800 kids, or 20 percent of the total, overstayed between March 2016 and October 2017.
With kids overstaying and repeatedly entering and leaving facilities, it’s hard to work toward long-term goals, said Nick Tran, program manager at the David and Margaret Youth and Family Services transitional shelter care facility in La Verne, Calif. And people offering a more permanent foster or group home placement want evidence of a teen’s stability before granting their acceptance.
Diamond’s great hope was a home with a foster mother, but her behavior scares people away. She readily acknowledges her history of anger, pot and methamphetamine use, and aggressive tendencies. “We’re traumatic kids in a traumatic place,” she said.
California has experimented with two pilot programs to address the needs of thousands of overstaying youth. Nash likened those initiatives to Band-Aids. Though the state still needs more tools for the task, the 2015 Stone Bill legislation encourages placement of youth in family settings while using current short-term shelters to provide intensive help to youth who cannot get placed with families.
Despite sorrowful stories like Diamond’s, California has decreased its overall foster child population by 45 percent since 2000, tweaking its short-term solutions while advocating for long-term solutions, namely stable families. —R.H.