Nonprofits provide transitional housing for emancipated foster youth
Supplemental support necessary for many turning 18
By Grier King 10/11/2012
“I really feel like I have a home and many people who stand behind me and who are always ready to help,” says Jessica Sims, 20, a resident of Ventura’s transitional youth home, Alice’s House. “Without Alice’s House, I don’t think that I would be doing as well as I am now in all aspects of my life.”
According to Ventura County Children and Family Services, more than 40 female foster youth are in need of such housing each year. Alice’s House gives a home to three such girls, and Camarillo’s Casa Pacifica has also just welcomed three young women, as well as one young man, with its newly launched program, Stepping Stones.
With only two transitional youth homes in Ventura, and approximately 781 children in foster care who will eventually turn 18 or become emancipated, the need for such housing is tremendous.
“Both Alice’s House and Stepping Stones are safety net programs that provide the security of a home while providing life skills and conflict resolution training and case management support in areas of education, employment and living skills,” explains Sharon Cromartie, the resident adviser and executive assistant at Alice’s House, which is operated by a Ventura-based organization, Kids and Families Together. She adds, “The goal of the program is to teach residents life skills that lead to self-sufficiency and the ability to live independently.”
“It provides hope. We’re not going to forsake you, we’re going to help you,” says Vicki Murphy, the chief advancement officer and director of alumni services at Casa Pacifica.
The existence of programs such as Alice’s House and Stepping Stones is not only crucial to the welfare of the children they benefit, but also the community that those children reside in, not to mention the state as a whole. Statistics show that, in California, 80 percent of all state penitentiary inmates have spent time in foster care, according to Everychild Foundation and the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes. Twenty percent of foster youth become incarcerated within the first 18 months of their emancipation while an average of 40 percent become homeless within those same 18 months. In Los Angeles County alone, 50 percent of emancipated youth are currently unemployed; 51 percent are unemployed within two to four years after emancipation. With the age of emancipation at 18, only 44 percent to 77 percent complete high school, while only 1 percent to 5 percent graduate from college. According to California Fostering Connections, 5,300 children became homeless after emancipation between 2003 and 2008.
Without proper support and housing, the young women who experience emancipation are three times as likely to have a child by age 19, only a year after emancipation.
Without Alice’s House and Stepping Stones, which practices its CITY program (Coaching Independence in Transitional Youth), with a central focus of creating a “self-sufficient path toward adulthood,” many children would become lost within the numbers and statistics, with a great chance of continuing the cycle of foster care and neglect with their own children as, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, one-third of all individuals who were abused or neglected as children will subject their own children to maltreatment. And with the organizations relying partly on “public support through donations, job opportunities and mentoring,” as Cromartie states, it is important that the community participate.
“It’s going to make a profound difference,” Murphy says. “You are trying to change the trajectory of their lives, and even if it’s just by a degree today, it will be huge over time. And helping them helps out the community.”
“To see people who are so excited about the program, kind of shocked me,” says Janet Gibson, 18, a young woman at Stepping Stones. “I thought that people in the community didn’t really care about foster kids, but moving into this program, I started to see that a lot of people do care about what happens to us. They’re willing to help us, we just have to let them come in to help us. A lot of us have abandonment issues, so we don’t let them come in, but to see the community make an effort to help us out, it really helped me open my eyes.”
The process of choosing who is fit for such housing situations as Stepping Stones or Alice’s House is based on potential.
“It’s usually a referral from a social worker or parole officer. They [the kids] fill out an application and go through three interviews. They’re hand-chosen because of their potential,” says Murphy. Each resident is able to live in the Stepping Stones home for 18 to 21 months but, explains Murphy, “That’s flexible. Sometimes it takes time for kids to mature. All of us do, and we need things at different times.”
Gibson moved in with her mother in Oxnard, coming from the Bahamas when she was 14 following the death of her father. The transition was hard; she had never met her mother before. By the time her 15th birthday rolled around, she was in the system.
“It’s not that my mom didn’t want me or anything. It was just hard for her. I didn’t know her, she didn’t know me,” Janet says. “Each of us [in the home] have experienced something different. All of us were in Casa [Pacifica], but each of us has something completely different that separates us from each other. Some of us have been abused, some have been homeless, and some have just been through a lot. To see each perspective of life, it really impacted me. It doesn’t matter who you see, even if you don’t really like them, somehow, some way, they will impact your life.”
“I think that a girl has to be willing to really look at herself,” says Jessica, “and be open to make changes in her life, and go after what she really wants. The road has not been easy, but I am grateful for every second of it.”