Monday, November 13, 2006

The Shelter Home and the aging out problem

I started this post a while back... shortly after I had to take Linda to the shelter home. I seem to mention it often and always feel compelled to say a couple of things about it which gets redundant. So I have decided to put all my thoughts about the shelter home in one spot. Maybe then I can just keep linking to the post rather than saying over and over that it is a mostly a good place.

The shelter home used to be an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood. They could handle maybe six or eight kids ages 9-17. The staff is friendly and professional.

Just this year they built a new state-of-the-art facility. They now have 20 beds. We drove up in the dark and Linda thought it looked like a nursing home. It does look like some sort of professional building, although a pretty, modern one with lots of windows and interesting roof lines.

What is good: it is a safe and secure place. The staff is friendly and professional, and really dedicated to kids. Because they leave after an eight hour shift they are generally not wore out. There is also no expectation that the kids form deep emotional bounds to the staff. This is plus for many kids. Though I do think it is good for kids to have strong bonds to people, it should not be a requirement in order to have a safe place to live. A social worker I know says that she doesn't like sending kids there because they so often don't want to leave. The kids who end up there often have attachment issues and there they are not pressured to attach. The staff do not take it personally if they are having a bad day.

The bad: the kids have to move out when they turn 18. The shelter home was never intended as a place for kids to grow up. It is supposed to be temporary, emergency care for kids who don't have any where else to stay. They do that well, and that is all they do. Once a kid turns 18 they cannot live there any longer.

Kids in most states, including this one, are allowed to stay in care until they are 19, if they are still in high school. Kids don't stay though because:

-They don't want to stay. They are tired of social workers and other adults telling them what to do.

-They have clearly got the message that they are expected to leave. For years they have been told, "When you are 18 then..." My bio kids have heard things like, "When you grow up and go to college, then..." or "When you are living on your own..." I have never communicated to them that their 18th birthday meant anything other than that they could vote, be sued or be drafted.

-They may be legal liabilities and no longer considered safe to live with kids under 18. This is a real problem for kids in the shelter or in homes like Mandy's. They just are not allowed to live there once they are 18. If they are still in high school, they have the legal right to stay in care, but the social workers are not going to put forth the effort to find them another placement unless the kids are asking, and asking fairly forcefully.

-Once they leave they can't come back.

Though I changed the title of this post, it was really just supposed to be about the shelter home.

It is as good as a teen shelter home could possibly be. It is intended to provide short term care for kids 9-17. It does that very well.


  1. Anonymous2:18 PM

    Just thought you'd like to know that things are changing, albeit slowly, for kids in care. In my state, kids have long been able to "sign in" voluntarily when they turn 18, and can stay in until they turn 22 (this gives them the opportunity to be supported through college). Now kids can also return to state care after they've left--they can come back at 19 or 20 or 21 and sign back in. Many who have seen what it's like on their own are coming back. It can be difficult to get services for them, though, as many have age restrictions.

  2. I should find out what CA law is just so I can say something intelligent.

    My situation isn't foster care so the "rules" would be different I suppose.


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