When children in foster care turn 18, they are, for the most part, on their own. They are called "emancipated" -- they are legally adults and free from the foster care system. But many young people leave California's foster care with no job or income, few educational prospects, and little emotional support or community connections. As a result, for these young people, emancipation can mean nowhere to turn and no place to go but the streets. In California, 65,000 children and youth are in the foster care system. Each year, more than 4,000 emancipate. Estimates are that somewhere around 20 percent end up homeless.
My So-Called Emancipation: From Foster Care to Homelessness for California Youth examines how the state fails to prevent homelessness from being a predictable outcome for too many youth leaving California's foster care system. Human Rights Watch interviewed youth who had been removed as children from their family homes for abuse, neglect, or abandonment and placed in the care of the state of California. After they left the system, they became homeless. They describe missed opportunities to learn skills, the lack of the ability to support themselves, shortage of second chances when things did not go right, and the fact that no one cared what happened to them.
California is failing in an essential duty to children in its care: to prepare them for adulthood and to survive independently. Just as children in state care have a right to be properly housed and fed, their crucial developmental needs should be addressed. Human Rights Watch calls on California to guarantee that youth who leave foster care have useful emancipation plans, create real opportunities for youth to develop skills for independence, help youth establish relationships that continue beyond emancipation, and extend support for youth in foster care after age 18.