“This is the only place I’ve ever called home,” said Brittany, a 17-year old foster youth who has been living in BAYC’s transitional housing program for 6 months. In just a few weeks, Brittany will turn 18, an age she’s dreaded since entering the foster care system at age 4 when she was taken away from her mother. During her childhood, she spent a lot of time worrying about her 18th birthday. Would she be left to face the world on her own with nothing but a backpack of a few personal belongings? She imagined herself on the street – homeless, jobless, and with no support system to help her navigate life outside of the system.
Fortunately for Brittany and thousands of other California foster youth about to “age out” of the system, her deepest fears won’t come to pass and her 18th birthday will be a day to celebrate. With the recent passing of the California Fostering Connections to Success Act (AB12), foster youth may now receive support until age 21, giving them crucial additional time to prepare for their transition to independence.
After many years spent bouncing between foster homes, Brittany found a safe and independent living arrangement through BAYC’s Real Alternatives for Adolescents (RAFA) program. At RAFA, she lives in her own apartment and has a support system of professionals and services preparing her for success for the inevitable day when she transitions to independence.
Each year, more than 5,000 foster youth like Brittany age out of the California foster care system without a place to live. The incidence of homelessness is so dire that foster youth have surpassed veterans as the number one group in California’s homeless shelters. Without the minimal stability of housing, these young people face a grim future. Statistics show that only 50 percent of foster youth finish high school and less than 3 percent receive a college diploma. Within 2 to 4 years after aging out of the system, more than half are unemployed while significantly more are underemployed.
With these dismal outcomes in mind, BAYC created RAFA to provide the essential link between foster care and successful independent living by preparing youth for long-term economic and social stability. For Brittany, this means a chance to practice living on her own with a safety net in place to catch her if she stumbles (as most adolescents do). Through RAFA, she is learning real-world skills like maintaining her own checking and savings accounts, how to use public transportation and how to make and keep appointments. RAFA’s extraordinary staff help her to achieve her educational goals and she receives vocational training to help her find employment. Perhaps most importantly, she receives mental health services and is learning how to develop and maintain positive relationships.
For the first time in a life that has been full of challenges, Brittany feels safe, supported and hopeful. For the first time in her life, she is excited about her 18th birthday.
BAYC is a division of Sunny Hills Services. BAYC has been assisting transition age foster youth in Alameda County since 1974. For more information, visit the BAYC website at www.baycyouth.org.