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Tough Transitions to Adulthood for Washington's Foster Youth

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill in 2016 aimed at improving educational outcomes for foster youth. (Jay Inslee/Flickr)
Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill in 2016 aimed at improving educational outcomes for foster youth. (Jay Inslee/Flickr)
November 16, 2018

SEATTLE – New research highlights the instability young people in foster care face, and the barriers this can create as they transition into adulthood.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation report shows that moving in and out of foster care placements, unstable placement settings, and leaving the system without finding a permanent family all can create barriers to well-being.

Annie Blackledge is executive director of The Mockingbird Society, which works with foster youth in Washington state. She says movements and events in the system can stick with kids.

"Compounding the impacts of trauma that young people experience from abuse and/or neglect coming into care just gets multiplied by the system, just putting kids wherever they can find an open bed,” says Blackledge. “So, they lose everything – they lose their schools, they lose their after-school activities, connections to churches."

She says this instability leaves kids with a lot of catching up to do when they 'age out' of the system. By age twenty-one, 39 percent of young people with foster-care experience in the state have full- or part-time employment, compared to 63 percent of the general teen population.

Sixty-nine percent have a high-school diploma or GED, compared to 91 percent overall. About half of states, including Washington, have extended foster care to age 21.

Leslie Gross is director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which works specifically to improve outcomes for foster youths ages 14-plus. She says stability is the key to ensuring kids are better off later in life.

"The one thing that I hear repeatedly, from all of the young people around the country that we work with, is that they need someone to rely on, no matter what,” says Gross. “Young people need permanent adult connections. We really have to do better."

Blackledge, who has been in foster care, says kids in the system are some of the most resilient in the country. Her organization focuses on that quality with those for whom they advocate.

"We know the impact that one significant adult can make on a young person's life,” says Blackledge. “And we try to hold up those good things that happen for young people in their experience, to be able to promote those."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA