Juvenile Law Center

March 13, 2017

Eight Recommendations for Homelessness Prevention for Youth Aging Out of Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems

posted by Juvenile Law Center

Yesterday, Juvenile Law Center’s Child Welfare Policy Director Jennifer Pokempner testified before Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development and the Homeless on Councilwoman’s Blackwell’s Resolution 170027 to investigate ways the city can prevent homelessness through new models. There are many causes of youth and young adult homelessness, and we must have targeted responses to each one. The child welfare and juvenile justice systems do not cause youth homelessness, but are often left to address a host of social problems. Because we know that large numbers of youth who leave the child welfare and juvenile justice systems become homeless, it is an intervention opportunity that we must take advantage of if we hope to put a dent in young adult homelessness.

Jennifer joined other advocates across the city in sharing recommendations with council members. Specifically, she offered eight strategies for preventing homelessness for youth aging out of the foster care and juvenile justice systems:

#1: Communicate to youth through program design, policy, and explicit messaging that they are valued. Our work has taught us that youth do not feel wanted or valued by systems designed to help them. This is especially true for system-involved teens and young adults. We need to have citywide policies that prohibit discharges to homelessness from the child welfare and behavioral health systems and we must ensure that youth can access services in the community with no access barriers.

#2: Create a Director of Transition Age Youth Services and Planning within the Office of the Managing Director of Health and Human Services. Youth most at risk for becoming homeless touch many systems and risk being lost between the child and adult serving systems. This position would be charged with ensuring transition aged youth involved in the child welfare, juvenile justice, behavioral health and related systems receive high quality services, that services are coordinates, and that there is accountability in terms of outcomes.

#3: Invest in and increase services to reunite and stabilize families of older youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Safely returning youth to families that are able to meet their needs as they transition to adulthood will reduce young adult homelessness. These services must take into account the special needs of parenting youth, LGBQ youth, and youth with disabilities.

#4: Expand the number of high quality family and community based settings for older youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Older youth need age-appropriate, high quality placement settings that fit varying needs and help them transition into adulthood. We must invest in this sufficiently in order to do it right.

#5: Provide transition to adulthood and aftercare services to youth after they leave the juvenile justice system. Youth aging out of the child welfare system receive transition to adulthood services from ages 14-21. Delinquent youth deserve to have access to these same services and should not be force to re-enter the system to receive services.

#6: Expand meaningful employment and career opportunities for young adults involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Various city agencies should collaborate to develop a plan to incentivize and increase investments in job/career opportunities for system-involved youth so their needs can be addressed. Youth in these circumstances often fall into homelessness because they do not have the skills needed to secure employment at a living wage. There are several successful programs that should be built upon and expanded.

#7: Redesign the foster care system for youth ages 18-21. We must redouble our efforts to find youth permanency so that they can leave the foster care system to the support of a family and a solid future. If that is not possible, our child welfare system should encourage youth to remain in foster care until age 21 if they need the support, and take every advantage to engage these youth on their pathway to adulthood.

#8: Increase the number of supportive housing beds and rental subsidies targeted at youth aging out of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. We must expand the investment in supportive housing and rental assistance targeted at transition-aged youth. We must also create programs that serve special populations such as LGBTQ youth, parenting youth, and youth with behavioral health needs and other disabilities.

Many of these recommendations echo those included in a report created through the City of Philadelphia’s 100 Day Challenge to End Youth Homelessness, which will be presented to city agencies in the month of March. Juvenile Law Center participated in this initiative, launched in 2016 to bring awareness and respond to the growing problem of youth and young adult homelessness in the city. The initiative is modeled after the successful 100 Day Veteran Street Homelessness Challenge. We look forward to sharing that work throughout this month along with our colleagues.

Tags:Child Welfare and Foster Care|Juvenile and Criminal Justice|Normalcy for Foster Youth

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