Foster Care 101

Wondering about First Place and the young people we serve? Check out these Frequently Asked Questions for additional information.

About Foster Care/Our Population

What does it mean to be a foster kid? What is “the foster system”?

When a child doesn’t have family that is able 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—often switching schools each time. Very few of them are adopted permanently.

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 grandparents or aunts until they can no longer care for them, 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.


Why do foster kids need our help?

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,

Are there foster kids in my neighborhood?

Foster kids live all over the United States. Though it is very likely that there are foster kids in your community, you may not know they are there.

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.

Who are your participants? What kinds of experiences have they had?

First Place for Youth supports foster kids as they learn to support themselves. We specifically work with foster kids between the ages of 18 and 24, at a critical time for them to learn to be responsible adults.

The foster kids 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. On average, our participants spent 8.1 years in foster care, across 6.5 different 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.


Our Program

How do the participants find out about you?

Our participants find out about First Place for Youth either through referrals from one of our partner organizations, or through their own personal connections.

First Place for Youth receives referrals from youth shelters, social workers, group homes, foster families, and schools, as well as from former participants, siblings, and friends. We do not require formal referrals—phone calls and walk-ins are always welcome.

Who is eligible to participate in your programs? Who is ineligible?

We support young adults over 18 and under 21 years old, who were in foster care on their 18th birthday. Also eligible are youth over 18 and under 24 years old, who were in foster care on their 18th birthday, and are currently homeless. Within that set of criteria, we try to take everyone who wants to participate. Current or expecting parents are eligible. We do not disqualify potential participants based on previous arrests, incarceration, or substance use.

How does someone become a part of the First Place Program?

Once a young person finds out about First Place and gets in touch with us, we help them schedule an appointment with a program specialist for intake and assessment. Then they attend one of our weekly orientation sessions to get started.

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What happens when you get started?

After new participants attend an orientation, they meet with their youth advocate to learn what First Place is all about. New participants also attend a life skills class on budgeting, career exploration, goal-setting and time management.

Our participants generally live in two-bedroom shared apartments, with moms and expecting moms in single apartments. When it’s time to move in, participants sign their own lease. We help them settle in with groceries, basic household supplies, and furniture.

All of our participants regularly meet with their youth advocates for help setting and achieving their goals. We help them get their GED’s 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.

How long does it take for a young person to get housing?

We try hard to help all our youth move in to an apartment as soon as possible, but First Place for Youth is not an emergency shelter. We partner with supportive services to make sure all young people that we work with have a safe place to stay while they wait for more permanent housing.

Wait time depends on location, but it is typically around two weeks.

How long is the program?

The First Place program lasts between 24 and 36 months. As the program comes to an end, we help each young person set up a transition and housing plan, transitioning them to full control of their lease and making sure they are set up to achieve their goals.

About the Organization

What are the challenges for First Place for Youth?

At First Place for Youth, we believe deeply in our work and we are proud of the positive changes we help make possible for our young people. But we think it’s also important to recognize that the work we do can be hard—both for our participants and for us.

In their efforts to transition into responsible adulthood, our young people face tough challenges. 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 foster youth have experienced abuse, homelessness, violence, or sexual assault, either 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 our young people 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.

When our young people come to us, they 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. We ask a lot of the young people who are in our care. Time and time again, they make us proud. Our job is incredibly rewarding, because we know we are helping our young people create paths to responsible adulthood and a brighter future.

How is First Place different from other social services and organizations?

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. Click here to learn more about our outcomes.

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.

How is your program funded?

First Place for Youth is a not-for-profit organization that receives support from individual donors and foundations, as well as federal, state, and local government funding.

All donations to First Place for Youth are tax-deductible.


Click here to learn more about Our Supporters.

How can I help?

First Place for Youth depends on our supporters and community members to help us continue our work. Get involved by donating to help foster kids in your community—no donation is too big or small.

Click here to donate to First Place for Youth.