ayanna

Youth Who Can't Go Home: An Adult Before Her Time

Feb 03, 2016

Anna Challet

Change is afoot in California’s child welfare system. From Assembly Bill 12 (which allows eligible foster youth to extend their foster care to age 21) to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that foster youth get Medi-Cal coverage until age 26, long-needed improvements are underway for the more than 60,000 California youth in foster care.

But some youth, particularly older teens and young adults, are left to navigate on their own for a variety of reasons. A severe shortage of placements for older youth, who have histories of neglect or abuse and often have mental health needs, has resulted in unstable housing situations that leave them with no one to rely on but themselves. Some bounce between extended stays in group homes or juvenile hall; some are placed with relatives who might not have the financial resources to care for them. Some who should be in foster care, but aren’t, are just ending up homeless.

And more change is coming. Assembly Bill 403 (Continuum of Care Reform) went into effect in January, the goal of which is to phase out the state’s use of group homes. Group homes will be replaced by treatment centers where youth will only stay for a short period of time before being placed in a family setting; the bill provides for recruitment efforts to grow the number of foster parents in the state. How successful these efforts will be remains to be seen.

By and large, young people without stable homes are determined to take care of themselves. The safety net can put independence within their reach. But it needs to be strengthened so that no more youth fall through the cracks.

AYANNA

Ayanna Rasheed, 21, wants to know how – how to save money, how to cook, how to do all the things that she thinks adults should know how to do.

Throughout her teens, she cycled through juvenile hall, group homes, youth shelters, and the homes of both her adoptive and biological mothers. She’s lived in a lot of different places, but now she’s out in the world, and she wants to know how to live there. “Going into the world, I’ve felt stupid and blind sometimes,” she says.

She refuses to feel sorry for herself. “I stopped crying about everything. I stopped moping and started trying to do things for myself,” she says. She’s hoping to soon begin classes to become an E.M.T., and eventually she’d like to go back to school full-time and become a paramedic.

Originally from Oakland, Rasheed has been in the system since birth, she says; she and her twin sister were adopted when they were very young.

As a teenager she was in and out of juvenile hall. “I was a troubled kid,” she says. When she was 15, she says, her adoptive mother decided she didn’t want custody of her anymore, so for the next few years, she lived in group homes and then transitional housing.

She struggled behaviorally at the group homes, but says, “I just made it hard on myself. The rules were simple and understandable … They were strict but it’s what I needed.”

She managed to track down her birth mother and went to stay with her in San Francisco, but her mom was dealing with her own issues. When her mother had to spend time in jail, Rasheed says she was “running wild” without supervision.

“Most people, when they don’t have anywhere to go, they’ll do anything to have somewhere to go,” she says.

During another period of bouncing between different housing situations, she came into contact with a legal advocate who helped her with AB 12 eligibility. Today she lives with a roommate in transitional housing in Oakland.

Looking back, some of the hardest times were her first stays in transitional housing. “I wish I’d had somebody just staying on top of me, making sure that stuff that was important got done,” she says. “You shouldn’t just put someone in an apartment and leave them on their own.”

“I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how to grocery shop, how to apply for food stamps, how to fill out a check, how to save money, how to cook. I just felt like I was left there,” she says. “Juvenile hall and the group homes, it wasn’t their job to teach me how to cook.”

At the same time, she thinks having to learn how to take care of herself has made her stronger.

“I have those moments where I get mad at my mom, mad at the world. Maybe if I’d had a mom to teach me I wouldn’t be running into walls,” she says. “But I learn from experience, trial and error.” 

  • catey1 Special Projects

    Finding the Way Home After a Parent’s Death

    May 24, 2016

    Anna Challet

    Despite long-needed improvements now underway for the more than 60,000 California youth in foster care, many are still falling through the system’s cracks for a variety of reasons.
    Read story
    catey1

    Finding the Way Home After a Parent’s Death

    May 24, 2016

    Anna Challet

    Despite long-needed improvements now underway for the more than 60,000 California youth in foster care, many are still falling through the system’s cracks for a variety of reasons.
    Read story
  • challet_foster Special Projects

    Young People Reveal Holes in the Foster Care Safety Net

    Feb 26, 2016

    Anna Challet

    A forum in Oakland brought together advocates, experts and former foster youth. who shared stories of what issues they’ve encountered during their years in the system and transitioning to adulthood.
    Continue to New America Media
    challet_foster

    Young People Reveal Holes in the Foster Care Safety Net

    Feb 26, 2016

    Anna Challet

    A forum in Oakland brought together advocates, experts and former foster youth. who shared stories of what issues they’ve encountered during their years in the system and transitioning to adulthood.
    Continue to New America Media
  • troy-isaiah Special Projects

    Street Souls: Isaiah & Troy

    Feb 01, 2016

    Isaiah Wallowingbull & Troy Nichols

    I like to feel that I have a higher power that could help me through the trials I go through as a homeless youth. There have been times in my life where I felt lonely. I believe that having a God helped me through the loneliness. I come from a religious background and was told things like “God does not love gays” and a lot of other things I was ...
    Read story
    troy-isaiah

    Street Souls: Isaiah & Troy

    Feb 01, 2016

    Isaiah Wallowingbull & Troy Nichols

    I like to feel that I have a higher power that could help me through the trials I go through as a homeless youth. There have been times in my life where I felt lonely. I believe that having a God helped me through the loneliness. I come from a religious background and was told things like “God does not love gays” and a lot of other things I was ...
    Read story