Mr Villasana is Back at His Desk

Fact Checking the Success of Foster Children Transitional Programs in Texas

Each year more than 24,000 foster teens age out of foster care often finding themselves alone, without support or resources. Many states have created transitional programs to help these young adults move from foster care to life on their own and millions of tax dollars are now being funneled into these programs. Yet nearly 80% of foster kids still fail to obtain and hold down a job, continue to go in and out of homelessness or end up in prison.

In a recent Facebook post about foster kids who age out, one commenter repeatedly promoted the many transitional services offered in Texas.

“The kids have numerous options. Transitional homes....some can live back with bio relatives and get benefits. They passed a law where they can receive a housing voucher after starting college. They receive financial assistance to age 26 years old.”

Let’s fact check these assertions. “Transitional homes… some can live back with bio relatives.” The Child Trends report, “Transition-Age Youth in Foster Care in Texas”, revealed that in 2015, 100% of Texas foster kids ages 18-21 left the system! Zero percentage went back to their parents or primary caretaker. Fact checker says no aged out Texas foster kids are living with a parent or other relatives. Thus, this assertion is false.

“Transitional homes....some can… get benefits.” There is a new federally funded housing program targeting foster kids that just started this year where they can compete to get one of 85 available vouchers. Hopefully this program will continue, but it’s only for the Houston area, and qualifying candidates also include families struggling with homelessness. Fact checker says it is true that some can get benefits. However, with roughly 30% of Texas foster teens aging out each year, 1,129 in 2015, 85 vouchers will only help a handful of foster kids. A program that only helps 8% has the bar set way too low.

“They passed a law where they can receive a housing voucher after starting college.” We couldn’t find any program, at least not a government-funded program where aged out foster kids receive a housing voucher. Maybe the commenter meant the new voucher program above. If so, you already know the shortcomings of that program. It’s like winning the lottery. Some lucky foster kids will get in while more than a thousand won’t.

“They receive financial assistance to age 26 years old.” There are many programs that help former foster kids. One available service is Supervised Independent Living (SIL). This program allows young foster adults ages 18-22 to live on their own and still receive occasional visits from their caseworker and support services. At least with SIL, these kids have a place to live rent free, but they don’t receive money through the program.

These youths are responsible for maintaining their day-to-day needs. They are also required to be enrolled in some form of education, high school, college or vocational program, as well as work 80 hours per month unless they have a documented medical condition.

As of 2016, only 32 out of roughly 630 Texas youths were taking advantage of this living arrangement and services monthly. One reason for the low participation is that even if a youth is eligible, they are not guaranteed a space. Texas only has eight facilities. Nothing is in Dallas, one of the largest cities, and only one facility is located at a college.

The SIL program gives some young adults a place to live, and they can also get help with college. In Texas, as with more and more states, foster kids who qualify can go to state colleges for free. But don’t think that “free” means everything’s covered. These kids still have to pay rent, buy food and get to and from college. And don’t forget about the roughly $1,200 per year the average student spends on school books, binders, pens and whatever else they need for a course. Some non-profits do have programs where they will give a stipend of a few hundred dollars to help foster kids go to college, but these are not managed by the State of Texas.

Many businesses, government agencies, contractors and politicians are excited about transitional services. They create a lot of jobs for social workers, doctors and counselors. The housing industry is getting involved. There is certainly value and a pressing need to have programs to help both former foster kids and those in extended foster care, kids who remain in the system after age 18. Unheralded is one program that already has a proven record of success – family finding.

When a foster child is reunited with their family, that child will most likely have stability in a caring and safe environment. Research shows that kids who reunite with their families do better in school, improve their ability to socialize, complete high school and go on to college at a much higher rate than foster kids who stay in the system.

As I mentioned at the beginning, nearly 80% of former foster kids struggle with poverty, homelessness, drug addiction and tens of thousands will spend years or decades in prison. Each person is unique and has the ability to go their own way and create their own path in life. Yet too many foster kids leave the system without that critically important family support that carries non-foster kids through the tough times, whether emotional or financial, to a place where they can build a solid, successful life for themselves.

After review, fact checker says that while there are many support and educational services available to existing and former Texas foster kids, financial benefits are available to only a few as are rent free living spaces. Transitional services will continue to expand nationally. Millions more will be poured into providing these services. Sadly, though, tens of thousands of foster kids, who could be reunited with their families or adopted for so much less, will suffer in foster care and then be put out into the street alone. Foster children deserve so much better.

Richard Villasana, founder of Forever Homes for Foster Kids, is a leading international authority on immigration issues and foster families. A proud Navy veteran, Richard has been featured by CNN International, AP News, ABC TV, Costco Connections, and EFE, the world’s largest Spanish language media company. For 25 years, his non-profit has worked with government agencies across the country to find families for immigrant and foster children to create a permanent home. Go to www.facebook.com/FAMILYFINDINGMX to reach Richard and to donate.