Youth Homelessness in Los Angeles County: Innovation with Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice and Coordinated Entry Systems

October 8, 2018

On any given night, an estimated 3,306 youth and young adults experience homelessness in Los Angeles County. Among these young people, 31% report current or previous involvement in the child welfare system and 62% report previous or current involvement in the juvenile or criminal justice systems.

We know that a significant number of young people stay in custody longer than necessary due to a lack of housing options upon their intended exit. They also exit public systems like child welfare or juvenile justice without connections to safe and stable housing and/or become unstably housed shortly after they’ve exited. It’s clear—there is an interconnected relationship between system involvement and housing instability, and this relationship most adversely impacts young people. In LA County, the scale is substantial.

Among youth and young adults accessing the homelessness crisis response system in LA County, prior and current involvement with these systems is also prevalent. Between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018, 3,900 young people accessed the LA County Coordinated Entry System for Youth (Youth CES). Among them, 33% reported that they had a Clinical Social Worker (CSW) from the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), LA County’s public child welfare agency, at some point in their life. An additional 11% reported having a Probation Officer in their lifetime, and another 13% reported having both a CSW and Probation Officer. In total, more than 2,200 youth and young adults who accessed LA County Youth CES in the last year were currently or previously system involved.

LA County’s child welfare agency currently serves more than 34,000 children, youth, and young adults, including more than 2,000 in extended foster care . Nearly 18,000 children and youth are in out of home placements, and approximately 15% will age out or emancipate from foster care. As these youth age out on their 21 st birthday or elect to emancipate on or after their 18 th birthday, identifying and accessing stable housing is frequently among their most significant challenges. Furthermore, many Non-Minor Dependents (NMD) in extended foster care experience housing instability while in care due to a significant shortage of housing resources for this population.

If we are to achieve our goal of preventing and ending youth homelessness, it’s critical that we bridge the systems that young people most frequently interact with. To help achieve this, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the LA Continuum of Care (CoC) lead agency and LA Coordinated Entry System lead, collaborated with the LA County Departments of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Probation, the Home for Good Initiative, the Center for Strategic Public Private Partnerships, and Alliance for Children’s Rights, to launch three pilots in LA County in 2017 focused on building new linkages between Youth CES and the child welfare and juvenile justice systems:

Pilot 1: Employs a broad-based strategy to forge relationships between Youth CES and DCFS by co-locating staff from each of the County’s eight Youth CES Lead Agencies at DCFS Regional Offices located throughout the County. Co-location is currently underway in all regions of the County, with co-located Youth CES staff spending one to two days per week at any given office. Youth CES staff attend ongoing DCFS CSW meetings, and work in partnership with CSWs to connect their clients experiencing or at risk of homelessness to appropriate housing resources. Youth CES staff first support CSWs to divert youth by identifying housing options outside of Youth CES, prior to facilitating access to Youth CES and housing resources accessible through CES.

Pilot 2: Tests strategies for integrating Youth CES into discharge planning processes within both DCFS and LA County Probation. Youth CES staff support CSWs and Probation Officers to identify appropriate referrals and were granted access to participate with CSWs, Probation Officers, and other support staff at standard discharge planning meetings three and six months prior to a young person’s exit from DCFS or a Probation Camp. Youth CES staff utilize discharge planning meetings and ongoing access to each system to work with DCFS and Probation staff to identify young people without stable housing identified, and to administer LA County’s Youth CES standard assessment tool and facilitate access to Youth CES as necessary and appropriate. 35 young people have been referred to Youth CES and successfully connected to safe and stable housing immediately upon exiting care.

Pilot 3: Focuses on addressing a critical gap in housing access for youth in extended foster care. Among the more than 2,000 youth in extended foster care, approximately 45% are in a Supervised Independent Living Placement (SILP), through which youth receive a monthly payment of $923 to support housing and living costs. To access a SILP payment while in care, youth must identify and secure a housing unit and the unit must pass an inspection conducted by DCFS verifying that it is safe and habitable. Once the unit passes an inspection, payments typically don’t begin for 60-90 days. As a result, many youth are unable to access SILP payments due to barriers in identifying, securing, and maintaining a qualified housing unit for 60-90 days without financial assistance. To test strategies for addressing this gap, youth in care who are interested in and recommended for SILP, but face barriers to meeting the initial requirements for enrolling in the program, are referred to Youth CES and enrolled in rapid re-housing. Rapid re-housing staff support the young person to locate a qualified housing unit, complete a SILP inspection with DCFS, and access rental assistance until SILP payments begin. Since the launch of this pilot, 25 youth have been referred from DCFS, housed through rapid re-housing, and connected to SILP payments successfully.

An evaluation of each pilot will be completed in Fall 2018 through which DCFS, Probation, Youth CES, and the Homeless Youth Forum of Los Angeles, the LA CoC’s Youth Action Board, will collaboratively develop recommendations to further enhance their linkages and ensure youth access stable housing while in care as well as upon exiting care. These recommendations will subsequently inform the scale-up of each pilot in early 2019 and additional changes to programs, policies, and practices, all towards furthering the commitment in Los Angeles to ensure that no youth or young adult experiences homelessness upon exiting the child welfare and/or juvenile and criminal justice systems.

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