BY MARK POWELL MARCH 25, 2021
One of the best ways to prevent homelessness is to address the issues that cause it, and the San Pasqual Academy for foster teens does that. However, changes in state and federal law could force San Diego County child-welfare officials to close the academy for good. If our elected officials are serious about preventing homelessness, they should make sure the San Pasqual Academy remains open permanently and protect the safety and welfare of our most vulnerable students, our foster youths.
Among the populations at greatest risk for becoming homeless are young adults who age out of foster care. In San Diego County, there are approximately 2,858 children in foster care. Therefore, many kids age out of the system every year. Youths who become homeless after aging out of foster care experience high rates of mental health disorders, a high risk of physical or sexual victimization and a lack of access to health care services — the issues that often cause homelessness. And when these foster children term out of the foster care system, within 18 months of emancipation, 40 percent to 50 percent of foster youth become homeless. Nationally, 50 percent of the homeless population have spent time in foster care. The San Pasqual Academy was designed to address these issues and has implemented safeguards for students to prevent homelessness.
From its inception, the San Pasqual Academy has been misclassified as a “congregate care” facility for foster youths — a group home for foster kids — and consequently falls under Assembly Bill 403, also known as the Continuum of Care Reform Act. Adopted into law on Oct. 11, 2015, AB 403 identified “home-based” settings with resource families as the best placement option for foster youth. This act also limited youth placements in congregate care settings, which could explain the decline in enrollment at the academy.
Members of the County Board of Supervisors voted to request an extension from the California Department of Social Services to operate the San Pasqual Academy through June 30, 2022. The extension would delay the academy’s closure, but much more would be needed to keep the academy open permanently. Supervisors need to work with our state legislators to appropriately categorize the San Pasqual Academy as a boarding school or similar designation and not categorize it as a congregate care facility, because it is not. As the name implies, the San Pasqual Academy is an academic academy, complete with a campus, teachers, staff, housing, football field, sports teams, school clubs, individual tutoring and more. It happens to be designed and tailored specifically for foster children, so it has many of the state requirements that protect them, but these requirements are overlaid on top of the basic structure of a full-time academic high school.
Each year, several hundred children enter San Diego County’s foster care system due to abuse and neglect of their birth families. When entering out-of-home care, these children leave the only family they know and are placed with relatives or in foster homes to protect them from suffering further harm. The county is then responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of these children while under its care. In San Diego County, when children are removed from their home due to parental abuse and neglect, siblings too often are further traumatized by subsequently being separated from one another. Currently, more than 40 percent of foster children with siblings are not placed with all their other siblings. In fact, nearly 25 percent of these children are not placed with any siblings at all. Trauma drives homelessness, and homelessness can increase traumatic exposure. Trauma also drives social difficulties and mental health problems, which can cause homelessness. The San Pasqual Academy is set up to address childhood trauma and take in all siblings to keep families together as best as it can, thereby reducing or minimizing the amount of trauma already being experienced by the children.
The San Pasqual Academy addresses the many issues that can cause foster youth homelessness. It is imperative that our elected leaders lobby the state and the governor to change its designation so it can be removed from the constraints of AB 403. The San Pasqual Academy is a shining example of what San Diego County can contribute; we cannot lose this invaluable county resource due to its inaccurate characterization as a group home for foster kids. And since the academy helps to prevent homelessness, local, state and federal funding allocated to combat homelessness should help fund the San Pasqual Academy as a viable alternative for foster youths.