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Sacramento, We Have a Problem…

April 16, 2012

By Amy Lemley

Starting in June, youth living in group homes in California will begin to graduate from high school.  The social worker of one such young person contacted our office last week, asking where her client is supposed to be placed after graduation, since according to AB 12, after age 18 or graduation from high school, whichever is first, placement in a group home is prohibited unless the non-minor dependent has a serious medical condition.

While the problem faced by this social worker may seem like a small one, it is not.  According to the Center for Social Services Research, there are over 2,000 17 and 18 year-olds living in a group home as of January 1, 2012.  As June nears, we will increasingly be asking ourselves the same question: where are these young people supposed to live once they graduate from high school or turn 18?

Certainly some will be eligible to remain in their placement based on a documented medical condition.  For the vast majority of these young people, however, the answer to this question is less clear.

When AB 12 was written, the idea was to allow young people living in a group home to “step down” into a new placement option: THP-Plus Foster Care.  This new placement was modeled after the existing THP-Plus program, which provides a range of supportive services in a semi-supervised setting. THP-Plus Foster Care was considered a good option for young people exiting a group home because of its combination of intensive support and autonomy.

Unfortunately, we are a long way away from the implementation of THP-Plus Foster Care. Despite an October 1, 2011 statutory deadline, the California Department of Social Services has not issued an All County Letter instructing counties how to implement THP-Plus Foster Care.  CDSS recently notified stakeholders that it would shortly issue the ACL, but it won’t be soon enough to help these youth.  Even the most nimble county will require a few months to execute contracts with its nonprofit providers using the new statewide approval standards.  In the mean time, hundreds of youth will be left without an appropriate placement- one that provides them the essential combination of a safe place to live with hands-on guidance in the areas of education, employment, health and parenting.

Some may argue: what about the Supervised Independent Living Placement?  Yes, that is an option, but one that was intended for youth demonstrating a high level of readiness for independent living, since the only supportive service provided in a SILP is a monthly visit with a child welfare worker.  Asking a young person to transition from a highly-structured environment, staffed 24-hours a day to a room in an apartment with minimal supportive services seems like a stretch, even to an optimist like me.

Others agree- at least one county representative I have spoken to says their county agrees that many youth in group homes need more intensive support services.  Their plan is to discharge youth in group homes into their county’s THP-Plus program until THP-Plus Foster Care is up and running and then work with the youth to re-enter foster care.  While I applaud the creativity in this approach, it is rife with problems.  First, it eats up part of the youth’s 24 months of THP-Plus eligibility.  Second, it denies THP-Plus to youth who are not eligible for extended foster care, but are still in need.  More importantly, it assumes that these youth will be able to successfully navigate the multiple transitions this strategy requires, including completing the re-entry process.

There has been a strong push to reduce group home utilization over the last seven years, due to its high cost and poor outcomes.  After years of efforts to drive down group home utilization, the young people currently placed in group homes are not there simply because someone didn’t think about placing them with a foster family or didn’t want to make the effort to locate a relative.  Led by both federal and state policy, counties have made these efforts and group home utilization has dropped, from 6,381 group home placements in January 2000 to 3,733 in January 2012.  The youth today who are living in a group home are there because it is their only option.

Absent a good placement option for youth required to leave a group home, I am concerned that they will not elect to participate in extended foster care.  Instead, they will exit care and face all of the problems that we know await them: homelessness, incarceration, exploitation and low-educational attainment.

Extended foster care was designed to help young people living in group homes, not just “high performing” youth who go on to college or those in stable placements who can continue to live with a relative.  Youth living in group homes are part of California’s foster care family and have an equal right to participate in extended foster care.

Given this, it is essential that we do whatever possible to support young people confronting this situation.  Most importantly, CDSS must issue the All County Letter as soon as possible to enable counties to begin to implement THP-Plus Foster Care.  Next, counties must act swiftly to implement THP-Plus Foster Care to bring this important placement option on-line.  Finally, we must refuse to turn our backs on these young people and be as flexible as possible when thinking through placement options.  We must ensure that youth living in group homes do not pay the price for our collective failure to develop necessary administrative procedures.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2012 5:18 pm

    Another great option for some would be THPP. This is a possibility for those stepping down from a group home who need more supervision than is available in a THP+, and it would not decrease the youth’s 2 year time allowance later. The biggest drawback at this time is that youth are not eligible for THPP after they turn 18 AND graduate. Best practices suggest that youth from Group Homes in their senior year would be excellent candidates for THPP.

  2. Josh Leonard permalink
    April 19, 2012 7:18 pm

    Agreed, Rylle. Despite some very positive outcome data, THPP remins a highly under-utilzed program.

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