Funding helps foster kids beat the odds | SierraSun.com

Funding helps foster kids beat the odds

Christine Stanley
Sierra Sun

Each year, nearly 60 children reach adulthood and age-out of the foster care systems in Nevada and Placer counties without access to social resources. But that will change soon, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has increased the budget for older foster youth, allowing local counties to improve their systems of care.

Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year more than triples the state’s investment in the Transitional Housing Placement-Plus program (THP-Plus) from $4.8 million to $15.4 million, increasing the number of youth served annually from 200 to more than 1,000. Additionally, it provides an $11.9 augmentation for the current fiscal year.

“This is giving foster kids in California the chance they deserve. Without it, they would end up poor, unemployed or in jail. That’s a waste of money and most importantly, it’s an undue punishment to someone who never did anything wrong in the first place,” said John Burton, the retired President Pro Tem of the California State Senate, in a release. Burton established a foundation in 2004 that advocates foster care reform.

The Transitional Housing Placement-Plus Program is a program that provides affordable housing and supportive services to youth, age 18 to 24, to help them make a successful transition from foster care. It offers a wide-range of services, such as educational counseling, job search assistance, banking and budgeting education and case management.

But the program has not yet been developed in Placer and Nevada Counties because of cost. Last fiscal year, the reach of THP-Plus was limited, with only five counties implementing the program, according to Rachel Pena, program manager for Child Welfare Services in Nevada County.

A key barrier to statewide implementation was a 60 percent share of cost requirement for counties, which was removed in June 2006 with the passage of the state budget bill, Pena said. With the additional investment proposed in the governor’s budget, 48 counties will implement the program, assisting more that 1,000 homeless youth annually.

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“What we envision is to provide emergency housing for emancipating foster youth who identify themselves as needing this service,” said Richard Knecht, interim director of Placer County’s Children’s System of Care. “Housing and some social support would certainly be available in the [Truckee-Tahoe area] and we anticipate that there are kids there that need these services.”

Through the Transition Housing Placement-Plus program, which should be up and running in both Placer and Nevada counties this year, former foster youth will receive 24 months of individualized assistance.

“They may start out paying zero toward their rent, and by the end they should be able to maintain their situation without outside assistance,” said Cynthia Brundage, Placer County program manager and licensed clinical social worker. “The program is focused on what they want. If they want to get a degree at Sierra College, for example, we would want to find a home for them near the campus.”

By design, any person who enters and completes the THP-Plus program will exit with a myriad of life skills, said Knecht.

“The natural supports that should be in place don’t exist for foster kids. THP-Plus helps them create those supports and to put some resources in place while they get the training they need,” Knecht said. “We are very confident that this program will assist kids to come out in a place of autonomy.”