Strengthening the Safety Net for Vulnerable Youth
It’s graduation season for high schools and colleges across our region, marking the transition for thousands of young people to adulthood and all that it entails. It can be deeply disorienting, isolating and lonely for young people making their way to independence; but the passage is even more unforgiving and brutal for our youth aging out of California’s foster care system. We know there is an absolute correlation between adolescents’ successful transition to adulthood and the support they are offered. For those “emancipating” from the foster care system, that transitional support has been practically non-existent. My two bills, AB 2309 and AB 2189, would give children and young adults a better chance at a strong and stable future.
AB 2309 would offer a change to keep children with their families and out of foster care. In what is often called “kinship care,” the bill would require agencies to look to family members such as grandparents or aunts and uncles for custody before taking a child out of their family environment. When it comes to courts deciding where to place neglected or abused children, research shows that children whose parents may not immediately be the best options have better educational and behavioral health outcomes when they live with relatives compared to children placed in non-related family settings. AB 2309 would allow the juvenile court to order guardianship at any time while the court is determining an abuse or neglect petition, including prior to the court’s finding of abuse or neglect. The bill would allow parents to designate an individual of their choice to serve as guardian as long as the child’s safety is not jeopardized.
For children who don’t have family members or others available to serve as formal guardians, the foster care system is the safety net program responsible for their care. For decades, the program covered foster youth until the age of 18. However, in 2010, the federal government created a pathway for foster youth to remain in care until the age of 21, with the intent of providing critical supports to help young adults transition to independence. California was one of the first states to create an Extended Foster Care program and over the past 12 years the program has shown numerous benefits for participating young adults, including improvements in education, employment, housing and social support, as well as reductions in pregnancy and criminal justice system involvement. In fact, for every year that a youth remains in care, the positive outcomes increase.
At the same time, the program has consistently struggled in one area: housing. In 2017, a study revealed that over 30% of youth reported they experienced homelessness while actively enrolled in extended foster care. Housing insecurity often follows foster youth when they’re leaving the system as well. Over one out of every four foster care youth experience homelessness after exiting the system.
If you’ve followed the housing crisis in California, this shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Young adults across California have struggled to find affordable housing. For foster youth, who usually lack any familiar support, the challenge is even greater. While California law requires county welfare agencies to work with foster youth as they approach the age of 21 to ensure that they have the basic necessities for independence, such as a Social Security card, a valid ID, birth certificate and assistance with housing, we’re learning that, for foster youth across the state, that’s not always the reality.
For years, I’ve been working to close the gaps in the foster care system to ensure that youth have safe and stable housing and supportive services while they’re in care and when they transition to independence, and AB 2189 is the latest bill to help strengthen the safety net for a particularly vulnerable population.
AB 2189 would support the successful transition to adulthood for those young people who are the responsibility of the state and rely on our child welfare system. The bill ensures that foster youth retain access to services and supports regardless of their housing status, including a clothing allowance or payments for pregnant youth, reinforces the framework for county welfare agencies to make intensive and ongoing efforts to ensure youth have housing stability and the items and services that they’ll need once they emancipate from the system and allows the courts to retain jurisdiction over a youth if the county has not fulfilled its obligation under the law.
It’s hard enough even when you have family to lean on, but many adolescents under state care do not have dedicated adult guidance, much less anyone to turn to for financial support. For those who age out of foster care at age 21, there is nowhere to temporarily “boomerang” back home if they need a place of refuge as they figure out their path forward. And for those disadvantaged young people, AB 2189 would ensure that they have the backing they need to successfully transition to adulthood.
While we may not be able to provide all the support of a solid family, California’s investment in a stronger foster care system can help our children and young adults achieve self-sufficiency and to live more fulfilling lives. And, by doing so, we strengthen our communities and our public health.
I hope you will join me in support of our foster youth because every child deserves a chance. As always, I welcome your questions and comments. Please feel free to reach out to me through my District Office by phone (818) 558-2043 or email Assemblymember.Friedman@assembly.ca.gov.