The Los Angeles Urban League recently conducted a study on the challenges facing Black foster youth in Los Angeles County. The study concluded that while numerous city and county-wide programs are available for foster youth to access services, the demand far exceeds the capacity of overworked and understaffed government agencies. Black youth, specifically, lack access to services where they live and encounter red tape and roadblocks when trying to access familiar, high-quality programs.

On average, African American foster youth spend more time within the system than other foster youth and are more likely to become Transitional Age Youth (TAY), a category of youth who transition from foster care environments and those without a stable home or proper resources. Without the critically necessary support, Transitional Age Youth often face the harsh reality of homelessness, joblessness, and ultimately, hopelessness. With limited prospects of a stable home, money, or education, Black foster youth are more likely than their peers to crossover into the juvenile legal system, leading to higher incarceration rates as adults.

The statistics prove that the current system has failed many of the clients it was created to serve. While Black residents make up about 8% of the population of Los Angeles County, African Americans represent 48% of the population receiving public aid from the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS), 27% of the people at the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and 38% of the population in juvenile detention centers. Some new models, however, have shown significant promise in recent years by providing job training and connecting young people to employment and support services. Services like counseling, career mentoring, remedial learning, and help with problem-solving are essential for successful re-engagement and lasting connections.

The roadblock to success, of course, is the lack of necessary funding, based on the mistaken belief that we should spend more money on policing and incarceration.

The roadblock to success, of course, is the lack of necessary funding, based on the mistaken belief that we should spend more money on policing and incarceration. What would happen, however, if we choose to invest in our young people, including our Transitional Age Youth, instead of ignoring or incarcerating them? In that case, our economy would thrive on the strength of the pool of talent that we currently overlook. As a collateral benefit, the cost of policing, the incarceration of adults, the homelessness crisis, and other related issues would go down.

Until that dream becomes a reality, the Los Angeles Urban League believes there is an urgent need and opportunity for non-governmental organizations to step in to provide best-in-class wraparound social services for Black foster youth. In this effort, the Los Angeles Urban League has started a pilot program that aims to shrink the statistics and provide industry-leading services to Black foster youth in Los Angeles County. Our Project STAR (Supporting Transitional Age Residents) pilot initiative focuses on career counseling, skills training, financial empowerment, and parent/family enrichment for Black foster youth and families. The Los Angeles Urban League is not the first or the only organization to focus on these issues; hopefully, we will not be the last.

These children did not create their circumstances, but together we have an opportunity to provide an alternate path forward that includes career opportunities in high-in-demand industries and greater economic security. Programs like Project STAR can change lives and create concrete social and economic gains. Still, unless we are willing to make system changes at the city, county, and state levels in support of our foster youth, we cannot make real progress. In the words of the ancient African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child.

The Los Angeles Urban League welcomes you to join our village.