LEASE: For Emancipating Foster Care Youth

When kids don’t have families who are able to care for them, the U.S. foster care system is there to fill the gap. But as these youth approach their eighteenth birthdays, they face the reality that they will now be fully responsible for supporting themselves on their own. Hundreds of youth emancipate from foster care in California each year without any training, preparation or financial means to support themselves. As a result, an alarming percentage of emancipated foster youth exit the foster care system only to land on the streets.

For 18- to 24-year-old former foster kids who land on the streets, in 2003, Larkin Street created the Larkin Extended Aftercare for Supported Emancipation (LEASE) Program. The LEASE Program is not a homeless youth shelter but instead the program places at- risk youth in their own apartments while providing wrap-around support in the form of counseling, employment training, referrals, and case management to ensure that emancipated youth develop the skills and resources to retain stable housing in the long-term.

LEASE participants are screened and referred by San Francisco’s Independent Living Skills Program (ILSP), which facilitates transitions for recently emancipated foster youth. After an intake process, LEASE clients settle into their new homes and begin working closely with Larkin Street Youth Service’s case managers to plan for the stable futures they will achieve after they leave the program. LEASE emphasizes training in life skills for youth: managing money, retaining employment, self-care, and maintaining housing.

LEASE helps youth create individual goals and life plans to meet their diverse needs. For example, a single young mother may go through job training, learn budgeting skills, and develop educational goals while in the program. Another young person may gain the skills he needs to be promoted in his current job, take care of neglected chronic health problems, and enroll in community college. All participants in the LEASE program receive education counseling and most attend college on a part- or full-time basis. Whatever path LEASE participants take toward success, Larkin Street staff are there to support them along their way. Their graduation from LEASE is a true emancipation from dependence to the success of self-sufficiency and independent adulthood.