Posted: Aug 26, 2010 6:58 PM by Ariel Wesler
In tonight's Your Family segment, new state legislation could give a helping hand to foster teens.
Assembly Bill 12 would extend the age limit a teen can stay in foster care from 18 to 21. Local officials with child welfare services says many foster teens are forced to leave before they're ready to face the real world. The bill is currently awaiting the governor's signature.
"I got a lot of stuff I gotta learn."
Chris Bruner is 18. He's been part of the independent living program through foster care since he was 15 and a half. Now, it's time for him to face the world.
"It was pretty stressful because I was gonna go do everything else that I could do cause I'm free now and I don't want other people to make that mistake," Bruner said.
It's not an easy world for the roughly 575 foster children in Santa Barbara County. Many haven't acquired enough life skills by the time the state forces them to leave foster care when they turn 18.
"Some kids have never been grocery shopping, have never had a bank account, so our program tries to do that but we only have sometimes two years to do that," said Yolanda Perez, the Independent Living Program Coordinator for Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services.
While many 18-year-olds can't wait to get out of the house, foster kids are used to living a very regimented lifestyle, and the sudden freedom can be overwhelming.
The county says about half of them each year can't get a job or pay rent and would otherwise end up on the streets.
"There's been times where we've driven youth from their foster homes to homeless shelters," Perez said.
Nationwide, only four percent even graduate from college, but chris is confident. He's studying to become a firefighter. I was with him as he faced another challenge. . .getting his textbooks.
If new legislation passes, foster teens, like Chris, will have more time to reach their potential and enjoy the benefits of their newfound freedom.
"It all rests on me and I want to be a good influence on people," Bruner said.
Not all foster teens are part of the independent living program, chris says it's something you have to choose to do. He says the program has taught him everything from direct deposit to sewing.
If it passes, the new law would affect teens scheduled to leave foster care in 2012.
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