When a child’s family is unable to to raise and support them, that child may be placed under care of government child services, or foster care. Through no fault of their own, kids end up in foster care for many reasons, including the death of a parent or severe parental abuse and neglect. There are about 400,000 foster kids throughout the U.S., with over 60,000 in California alone. Most foster kids move between foster homes frequently. While many are reunited with their families and some find permanent homes with adoptive families, a significant number remain in foster care until they reach adulthood and “age out.”Just like any other kid, foster kids have a wide variety of experiences. Some foster kids are removed from their families as babies, and some as teens. Some live with extended family for a time, and some have no living family members at all. Most young children in foster care are placed with foster families, but by the time they are teenagers, many foster kids live in group homes or other institutional settings.

For young children placed in foster care, the lack of stability, loving relationships, and safe places to live can be traumatic, and the damaging effects last into adulthood. And they often lack the consistent presence of caring adults who can help provide them with a foundation for their future success.

Think about how important family is in any person’s life. It is not hard to understand why life can be especially tough for kids who grow up without a family that can be there for them. Many foster kids grow up without the positive role models and healthy influences that young people need to reach their potential. Constantly moving in and out of homes and schools creates instability that can be damaging to a child’s development and make it hard for them to trust others. Without supportive family ties that can carry them into adulthood, foster kids often struggle to find their way.

These experiences help to explain why so many foster kids end up homeless, chronically unemployed and trapped in poverty. Nationwide, more than one out of every three foster kids becomes homeless. Only 3 percent earn college degrees, and half are unemployed at age 24.i

When young people grow up without family to be there for them, it leaves a big gap. First Place for Youth helps to fill that gap by giving foster kids who are on the verge of adulthood caring support that they can rely on to help them achieve their goals.

i. Children’s Advocacy Institute, 2011. The Fleecing of Foster Children.

Foster kids live all over the United States, so it is very likely that there are foster kids in your community without you even realizing it. There are many reasons that foster kids can be hidden in plain sight.

Many foster kids grow up with no one to advocate for them at parent-teacher conferences, take them school supply shopping, or even order their school pictures. Foster kids move around a lot, and are unlikely to have access to sports or extracurricular activities, leaving them isolated from the community. And staying hidden is a way for many young people to protect themselves from the stigma of being a foster kid.

My First PlaceTM is a nationally-recognized, housing-supported education and employment program open to current and former foster youth ages 18-24.

We believe that having a safe place to call home is a stabilizing factor that enables youth to focus on their education and employment goals, build community, and establish a foundation for long-term success in independent living.

As a THP-Plus and THP+FC provider, First Place for Youth serves foster kids ages 18-20 who are enrolled in California’s extended foster care program, as well as youth 18-24 who were in foster care on their 18th birthday and have since experienced homelessness. Within that set of criteria, we try to accept everyone who wants to participate. Current or expecting parents are eligible, and we do not disqualify potential participants based on previous arrests, incarceration, or substance use.

The young people we serve at First Place for Youth are no different than most foster kids. They come to us having experienced the same hardships and facing the same odds.

  • The average MFP participant has spent 8 years in foster care and lived in more than 6 homes.
  • Just under half have no high school diploma or GED.
  • More than half have been homeless.
  • One in three has children of their own.
Young people may be hear about My First Place through their social worker, one of our partner organizations, or word of mouth through their friends and other personal connections.

While prospective participants are often referred by youth shelters, social workers, group homes, foster families, or schools, we do not require formal referrals. Phone calls and walk-ins are always welcome.

Young people who are interested in joining My First Place meet with an intake specialist to determine their eligibility and assess their needs. They are then expected to attend an orientation session that will introduce them to the structure and expectations of the program.

Participants generally live with a roommate in shared, two-bedroom apartments leased and furnished by First Place. When it’s time to move in, they will sign a sub-lease and First Place will help them settle in with groceries and basic household supplies.

New participants will attend a life skills class on budgeting, career exploration, goal-setting and time management.

All of our participants regularly meet with their Youth Advocates for help setting and achieving their goals. We help them get their GEDs or go to college, get and keep their first job, and to learn the everyday skills they need to reach their potential.

Our program is a two-way commitment, and we hold our young people to high expectations for participation and self-investment. Time and time again they make us proud.

Once all the required paperwork and orientation is complete, First Place will work to get youth placed into their apartment as quickly as possible. Because First Place is not an emergency shelter, wait times can vary. We work with partner organizations to ensure youth’s needs are met until a unit becomes available.

Program participants can remain in program for up to 36 months. As the program comes to an end, we help each young person set up a transition and long-term housing plan, including potentially turning over full control of their lease, and making sure they are set up to achieve their goals.

At First Place for Youth we have high expectations. We have high expectations for ourselves, in the work that we do and the impact we make, and high expectations of our youth participants.

The key to the First Place model is our commitment to results, impact and measurement. We are constantly evaluating our own work and programs, measuring outcomes and learning from our work. Every day we strive to get better at what we do, and we have the outcomes to show for it.

And just as important to our model are our high expectations for our participants and the unyielding support we offer to help our young people live up to them. We support our young people relentlessly—through good times and bad—to help them reach their full potential in school, work and life. We know our young people need someone in their corner, both to cheer for them, and to nudge them when they get discouraged or make mistakes. We give them love and care as well as the accountability they need to build practical skills and confidence. For many of our young people, First Place staff members are the first adults in their lives they can consistently rely on for support and guidance.

At First Place for Youth, we believe deeply in our work and we are proud of the positive changes we help make possible. When they come to us, young people are at a pivotal moment in their lives. Putting them on a positive path right when they are becoming adults can change the entire trajectory of their lives for the better. We see our work as an investment in the future. But we think it’s also important to recognize that the work we do can be hard—both for our participants and for us.

First, many foster kids miss out on the chance to learn practical skills, like applying for a job, paying the bills, opening a bank account, cooking, or doing laundry. And second, many of our young people have experienced abuse, homelessness, violence, or sexual assault, whether as young children, young adults, or both. Because of the legacy of those traumatic experiences, they may struggle with PTSD, learning disabilities, or other health problems that have never been addressed.

First Place for Youth takes a holistic approach to supporting young people with both of these types of barriers. We help them gain the tools and practical skills they need for the future, as well as the personal coaching and care they need to address and treat mental and physical health challenges.

As an organization, and as individual staff and board members, we get lots of questions about our personal and organizational challenges as well. Our work can be hard, but we know our participants. We understand what they need. And we know how to help them. Our job is incredibly rewarding, because we know we are helping our young people create paths to responsible adulthood and a brighter future.

In Fiscal Year 2017 First Place for Youth received 68% of our funding from federal, state, and local government agencies. The remainder of our funding comes from a mix of foundation, corporate, and individual sources.  Learn more about our supporters.

First Place for Youth depends on our supporters and community members to help us continue our work.

The easiest way for you to get involved is by donating to help foster kids in your community—no donation is too big or small.

First Place for Youth is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, and all donations are tax-deductible.