Foster Youth and Experts Fear Consequences of Changes to California’s Extended Foster Care Program

California Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed change to a California state law extending foster care to age 21–officially known as THP-Plus Foster Care–could leave thousands of young adults without appropriate housing, say experts. The change would allow counties to decide if they want to implement a transitional housing program designed for foster youth turning 18 who aren’t yet ready for independent living. reports:

Foster care advocates begged the governor to rethink his proposal at a budget hearing on May 2, but the revised budget plan released Monday does not reflect the suggested changes.

About 2,000 foster care youths living in group homes will turn 18 this year, and the majority of them aren’t ready to live independently, said Amy Lemley, policy director for the John Burton Foundation, a nonprofit that monitors foster-care issues.

According to a spokesman for California’s Department of Social Services, Governor Brown’s proposal is meant to give local governments the ability to decide which services meet the needs of their foster youth. However, some local politicians believe implementing the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, or AB 12, across the board is in the best interests of all youth aging out of foster care:

Assemblywoman Holly J. Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, chair of the budget subcommittee on health and human services, said she believes AB-12 should be implemented as it was approved by the legislature.

“Releasing kids who have ‘aged out’ of foster care to homelessness is clearly not in the best interest of anyone’s child… mine or yours and shouldn’t be California’s policy,” she said. “I am committed to working to ensure we keep our commitments to these kids.”

The state has yet to issue guidelines for implementing THP-Plus Foster Care even though most portions of the law have been in effect since January 1. The delay means youth living in group homes who are about to age out of foster care have to choose between homelessness or entering the state’s Supervised Independent Living Program.

Dave Howell is one of the teens faced with this decision and–even though he’s not sure he’s ready to enter the program and live on his own–he feels he has limited options:

“Where else am I supposed to go?” Howell said. “[Foster youth] can either try it or be homeless. That’s pretty much the gist of it.”

While Governor Brown has allocated an additional $53.9 million for THP-Plus Foster Care and appears committed to implementing the program, that’s little solace for teens like Howell who have no guarantee the program will be available to them:

…the governor’s plans to make THP-Plus Foster Care optional won’t give foster care teens the reassurance they need that help is out there, Howell said.

“I feel that it is necessary and it should be authorized for everybody because everyone’s created equal, but some of us don’t have the good life and some of us need the help until we’re 21,” he said.