Child Welfare & Housing Access

Kids Aging Out of Foster Care Face Dearth of Sustainable Housing Options, Potential Housing Discrimination

Presented by Voices for Virginia’s Children, FACES of Virginia Families, and the Virginia Poverty Law Center, the 2012 Child Welfare and Housing Access Summit took place on June 12 at the Virginia Housing Center in Glen Allen. Politicians, practitioners, educators, housing wonks, and foster parents gathered to discuss how to best serve the housing needs of youth transitioning out of foster care in Virginia. Delegate Chris Peace and Senator George Barker began the Summit by acknowledging that any young adult that has aged out of foster care faces many challenges in accessing housing, but they also presented messages of hope and were positive that there are solutions to these problems.

In 2011, there were 5,927 children in foster care in Virginia, and a mere 11% of them were adopted out of foster care. Nearly a third of children in foster care will “age out”, or reach the age at which they are no longer required or able to live under the care of foster parents (18 in Virginia; 21 in some other states). These young people are disproportionately youth of color, and the families from which they were removed are predominantly low-income.  They often leave foster care without the skills and support needed for a successful transition to independence, and one of their most troubling challenges is securing safe, affordable housing.

Where you live makes all the difference. An April 2012 HUD publication,  Housing for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care:  A Review of the Literature and Program Typology, suggests that:

…in addition to meeting the basic human need for shelter, safe and stable housing can function as a ‘platform’ that promotes positive outcomes across a range of domains from education to employment to physical and mental health.

Youth aging out of foster care face many barriers to stable housing, such as:

  • inadequate income and assets
  • lack of relationships with supportive adults
  • early parenthood
  • lack of preparation for independent living
  • lack of assistance transitioning to independent living
  • lack of systems integration

In addition, the affordable housing shortage in Virginia causes many youth aging out of foster care to be limited to low-income neighborhoods, where housing tends to be in poor condition and located far from public transportation, employment opportunities, and needed services.

Fortunately, advocates and policymakers are creating solutions to these problems, knitting together government rental subsidies and comprehensive social services to create person-specific “aging out” plans for many youth in foster care. As Ruth Ann White, the Summit keynote speaker, explained, just because a child has turned 18 and is no longer in foster care, this does not mean that “we” – social service providers, advocates, educators, fellow citizens – are off the hook for ensuring he or she has an equal opportunity to housing.

Localities and local resources often play the most noticeable, if not the most significant, role in protecting a transitioning youth’s housing availability and choice.  At the local level, we can fight discrimination and misconceptions about youth aging out of foster care through intervention and landlord education.  We can determine precisely how many children are aging out of foster care in our communities at any one time and assist them on a personal level.  We can also act as advocates, building political will and establishing relationships with housing providers on behalf of transitioning foster children.  Senator Barbara Favola closed the Summit with three arguments we can make to our political leaders to promote the needs of these young people:

  • We’ve already invested time and money in these children – we need to stick with them until we can get a return.
  • These children are at an impressionable age – we can teach them useful, productive skills, and provide them with tools they’ll actually use.
  • If we’re going to break the next generation of poverty, we have to do it now.

This is a guest post by Brianne Mullen.  Brianne is a law and policy intern at HOME’s Center for Housing Advocacy for the summer of 2012.  She is a dual degree candidate working on a law degree at University of Richmond and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning at VCU.

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