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Report grim on teens after foster care

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By David Abel
Globe Staff / June 5, 2008

In the first report of its kind on the foster care system, a survey of teenagers who recently left state custody found that nearly half have become pregnant or have impregnated someone, more than one-third have experienced homelessness, and nearly one-third have been threatened or injured with a weapon since going out on their own.

The report, to be released today by The Boston Foundation, also found that 60 percent of these former foster children experienced symptoms of depression, 54 percent were unemployed, 34 percent used illegal drugs, 25 percent have been arrested, 11 percent have been sexually assaulted, and 8 percent have been incarcerated.

"I think this report is an indictment of the system, which somehow expects 18-year-olds who have had difficult lives to plan an effective strategy for their future," said David Trueblood, a spokesman for The Boston Foundation. "The numbers underscore that the system as it is now puts kids at risk."

The report surveyed 96 foster care children who aged out of the system in 2005. At the time, they were among 812 18-year-olds in the custody of the state Department of Social Services, and nearly half of them had lived in more than 10 homes or institutions.

Although those in foster care are eligible for services until their 22d birthday, fewer than half of the young adults surveyed received the services, which include therapy, housing assistance, and life-skills training. They can also remain in foster care.

Alison Goodwin, a DSS spokeswoman, said the state has been working to increase the number of foster care children who receive services after aging out of the system. She said the numbers of those remaining in DSS custody after their 18th birthday has increased over the past six years, with about 8 percent of those now placed in homes or institutions between ages 18 and 21.

She said the report does not fault the state. "I don't really think this is about the foster care system," Goodwin said. "It's about children who do not grow up with their own families who have trouble making a smooth transition to adulthood."

The report urges lawmakers to establish a transition system for youth aging out of the system and to increase mentoring programs. It calls for social workers to promote stronger relationships between foster children and their relatives or other caring adults. It also urges schools and state colleges to create "foster care liaison" positions to help students who have recently left state custody.

Della M. Hughes, a senior fellow at the Brandeis Heller School for Social Policy and Management who helped write the 36-page report, said the state should stop cutting human services. "What's happening to these kids is unacceptable," she said.

Bryon Hefner, 20, is one of those youths.

"I've been to everything the state has to offer," he said. "I see kids leave at 18 and have nothing, no prospects, and they leave believing they have no future. It's not surprising at all that they end up going from one system to another."

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