Next TOC Last Juvenile Justice in California Part II: Dependency System
Prepared by the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund, Juvenile Justice Study Committee. July 1998.


For many leaving Foster Care is like going over a cliff. The general population does not give it a thought, but emancipating foster children need everything that a parent would give a child of the same age.

Foster Children leave the foster care system when they reach the age of 18, an experience which the Dependency System refers to as "emancipation". From the age of 18 years, there is no official support for them from the state or county. Some may have developed a relationship with their foster family which continues and others return to their family of origin.

In 1986, Richard Barth studied the experiences of 55 former foster youth in San Francisco Bay Area including Sacramento who had been emancipated from one to ten years. He found that the group were often struggling with ill health, poor education, severe housing problems, substance abuse, and criminal behavior. He concluded that the odds of moving easily into independence are stacked against foster children. Other studies found that youth about to be emancipated were ill prepared for independence. Many foster youth needed academic remediation and demonstrated problems in such areas as self-control, managing home and school learning demands, and peer and adult relationships. Another study suggested that adolescents in foster care suffer an unusual number of undiagnosed maladies. Barth found that a sizable number of the group suffered from headaches, dental, vision, weight, sleeping, drug or alcohol, sexual and hearing problems, depression, loneliness, thoughts of suicide, and vomiting but only about one-third of those affected obtained treatment.

Studies of homeless young people in New York and Los Angeles in the 1980's found that 30- 40% of them had been in foster care. (125) A more recent estimate is that approximately 40 to 50 percent of emancipating youth become homeless.(126)

Barth found that the respondents in his study experienced extreme financial hardship. Half of them had serious money problems, such as not being able to buy food or pay bills. 33% reported that they had done something illegal to get money, such as stealing for food, prostitution and selling drugs. Almost one-third had been arrested, and 26% had spent time in jail or prison. (127)

The California Youth Connection is an organization of former foster children who have organized peer support groups in a number of communities in the state. (128)

Community College Independence Programs reach 50% of the foster youth who need preparation for independence.

Transitional Independent Living Program for Older Foster Children P.L. 99-272: Section 477 to improve preparation for independent living for federally eligible youth in foster care has made federal grants available for Independent Living Programs for the last ten years.

One Model Program for Emancipated Foster Youth

In Los Angeles, one thousand foster youth are emancipated each year.

Bridges to Independence in Los Angeles has been serving emancipating youth for ten years. The program is a collaboration between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, the United Friends of the Children Bridges, a non-profit organization, and the Weingart Foundation. The Foundation has committed to spend $10.7 million over 7 years to serve all the emancipating youth in Los Angeles who want the service and agree to the terms.

In 1992, the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided a grant to the collaboration to house 75 to 100 emancipated foster youth.

The collaboration now has 10 HUD grants, which pay for rented furnished apartments, utilities, food allowances, social worker, child care for the few slots for mothers. The apartments are in buildings that the Collaboration bought and renovated with HUD funding.

The Collaboration has different programs for three categories of emancipated youth. The A group are those with a plan to attend college or the military or have a family. The B group have high school education but no resources. The C group has been involved in gangs, drugs, alcohol or prostitution. Youth stay one of these programs eighteen months, must open a bank account and save money, be involved in education or work or both. Classes are provided in how to keep an apartment, develop a menu, and cook. Covenant House serves the C group who receive intensive services.

The program is being evaluated by Madeleine Stoner, a professor of Social Work at the University of Southern California, so that the program can be replicated elsewhere. The evaluation will track the graduates of the program for five years. Already enquiries are coming in from around the state and country.

95 % of the youth in the program earn their High School diplomas.
48% are in college.
60% are in college and work. Nearly all work. Most of the youth in the program function well, having had the extra 18 months of financial assistance and support services.

The Collaboration is developing a resource center for their graduates to help them access medical care, and find low cost housing. Eventually they hope to have several such centers. Youth need a network when they leave the program.(129)


A prime goal for the Child Protection System is the protection of an abused or neglected child from further physical harm. A second is addressing the need of a child to have stability and permanence in the home. It could be argued, however, that the ultimate goal of intervention in a maltreated child's life is also to attempt to restore that child's potential to develop into a productive adult.(130)

We need culturally competent early interventions when these children first come to the attention of law enforcement. These interventions need to be positive to strengthen children and their families and reduce the acting-out of negative self perceptions.

Research has associated maltreatment and related issues of family dysfunction with several negative developmental outcomes such as school failure, inability to form positive relationships, long term mental health needs, the inability to maintain a job, or entry into the juvenile or criminal justice systems.(131) Children reported for maltreatment have been said to be at greater risk of being a victim of later homicide(132); greater risk of intellectual and academic deficits(133); depression and other socio-emotional difficulties(134); abusing their own children(135); and substance abuse.(136)

For example one on-going long-term study has looked at a sample of 1,575 court cases of abuse and neglect that occurred between 1967 and 1971 inn a midwestern county, using documented records. At the time the cases came to court, all of the children were under 11 years of age and the mean age was about 6 years. To isolate abuse and neglect from other social factors a control group was selected closely matched in age, gender, race and socio-economic conditions and living in the same part of the country.

The first part of the study was conducted in 1987 and 1998. Checks were made of all non-traffic arrests at the local, state and national level and researchers individually interviewed 1,100 of the sample group. Researchers revisited the arrest records in 1994 for both the sample and control groups when almost all of the sample were 26 years of age or older.

Research showed that differences began to be evident as early as eight and nine years of age when members of the sample group had arrest records. At the time of the first report 28% of the sample group had been arrested, 11% for violent crimes compared to 21% of the control group, 8% for violent crimes.

Six years later the differences were even stronger. This time, 49% of the sample had been arrested, 18% for a violent crime, compared to 38% of the control group, 14% for a violent crime. Although the rate for the control group was high, they shared many of the same risk factors such as poverty and living in high crime communities, the rates were significantly higher for those who had been neglected and abused as children.

Neglect seemed to be just as damaging as physical abuse. The rate of arrest for violent crimes among the sample group members who had been neglected was almost as high as the rate for those physically abused.

There was no relationship found between those who had been abused and neglected and teen-pregnancy; however, those who had been sexually abused were more likely, both boys and girls, to have been arrested for a sexual crime, usually prostitution.

During the interviews, both males and females reported having made suicide attempts. Males seemed to be at increased risk for antisocial personality disorders. Females seemed to be at increased risk for alcoholism.

Abuse and neglect seemed to magnify pre-existing racial disparities. Black individuals who had been abused or neglected as children were being arrested at much higher rates than white children from the same background. By 1994, 82 percent of the black males in the sample and 50 percent of the black females had been arrested; 50 percent of the total black sample had been arrested for violence. These differences did not appear in the control group. (See also Chapter V: Children in the Dependency System with Various Needs, the sub-chapter on Race and Ethnicity as They Apply to the Dependency System, the section on differences of services within the Child Welfare System to children of color and others.)

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Juvenile Justice in California Part II: Dependency System
Prepared by the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund, Juvenile Justice Study Committee. July 1998.