Foster kids cut loose far earlier than our own
Foster kids cut loose far earlier than our own
BY FRED GRIMM
With so many adult children well into their 20s, even their 30s, still dependent on mom and dad, they’ve been dubbed the “boomerang generation.” They’re back home. Some never left.
A Harris Poll, commissioned last year by the National Endowment for Financial Education and Forbes Magazine, found 59 percent of American parents still pony up for adult children up to 39 years old. The survey excluded children still in school or the percentage would have been higher still.
Fifty percent of the parents surveyed said they provide housing, 48 percent help with living expenses, 35 percent buy insurance, 28 percent pay medical bills and 29 percent dole out spending money.
The parents do this for the obvious reason. The boomerangs, despite all the advantages of family and education, have found themselves foundering in an economy that has been particularly gruesome for the young. Unemployed and underemployed boomerangs have become one of the recurring themes of this long, slow recovery. We’ve extended the age of dependency.
But not for foster children.
The budget bill passed in the Florida House of Representatives Thursday actually lowers the age when the state’s foster children, even those still in school, are cut loose. Support for former foster care students would end at 21, instead of 23.
The Road to Independence Act, passed back in a more enlightened 2002, recognized that children aging out of Florida’s often overwhelmed, sometimes negligent foster care system were hardly ready to face the world alone.
These kids, removed from their families by the state, often at a very young age, are tossed out of the foster system on their 18th birthday. Khamisi M. Grace, director of the Casa Valentina, a Miami program that helps former foster children prepare for independent living, spoke Friday of how the foster system leaves these kids with few of the skills they’ll need to manage on their own. Most have never opened a bank account, faced a job interview, rented an apartment, managed a credit card, even cooked a meal.
She described children who had been neglected and abused and scarred before the state intervened; then shuttled from foster home to foster home, from school to school, falling ever behind. Sixty-two percent of them age out of foster care at 18 without a high school diploma or a GED, often years behind grade level. Some can barely read, Grace said.
The Road To Independence Act tried to fix that. After their 18th birthday, the kids can apply for a monthly stipend of about $1,000 a month for rent and living expenses. (If they stay out of trouble, off drugs and attend school. Last year, only 563 of the 3,999 former foster kids under the auspices of the Road to Independence program received money.) Grace said the stipend, set at the equivalent of a minimum wage job, often sustains former foster care students still trying to finish high school. “How can we expect these foster children to overcome these problems so quickly and go out and find a job?” Grace asked.
“I don’t like these disparaging comments that these children are victims,” Rep. Dennis Baxley protested during the committee debate, as if he was defending their honor by taking away their stipend. “They are not a victim,” declared the Ocala Republican, continuing his peculiar argument. “They are Americans.’’
They may be Americans. But their situation doesn’t much resemble those American adult children who’ve boomeranged back into parental dependency.
“We’re not just going to keep handing out money,’’ Baxley insisted. Lowering the eligibility will save the state $11,680,309. Though Sen. Nan Rich, who fought the new age cap, has pointed out that most of the state’s expense would be offset by federal funds allocated for exactly these costs.
Rich said Friday that the Senate budget bill did not alter the cap for Road-To-Independence kids, keeping the eligibility age at 23. The differences between the House and Senate versions will be worked out this week in a budget conference. “I’m hoping we hold our position,” she said. “This should not be a partisan issue. Taking care of these young people, who have been in the foster system most of their lives, is our responsibility.”
Grace agreed that the state has a moral responsibility here, but she added that it makes also makes fiscal sense to prepare these kids to make it on their own. “They just don’t disappear,” she said. “With no skills, very little education, no family support or direction, what do you think is going to happen to them?”
We know what will happen. About 25 percent of the kids graduating from Florida’s foster care system will be incarcerated and 20 percent will be homeless by the age of 25. Either proposition will ring up considerable costs to taxpayers.
Well over half the parents in America are doing for their adult children what Florida ought to be doing for former wards of the state, at least until age 23.
Rep. Baxley argued, “We can’t just keep extending childhood ’til they’re 40.” Any 40-year-old could explain to Baxley, regretfully, that 40 is a long ways removed from 23.
Of course, Baxley was only referring to the help Florida extends to children of the state. Boomerang kids? Don’t worry. They’ll still get their extension.