Improving the Foster Care System to Protect Our Most Vulnerable

Since first taking Assembly office in 2016, I’ve worked to strengthen the safety net for transition-age foster youth, particularly when it comes to ensuring they have access to safe and supportive housing. I’ve successfully passed bills to provide financial support to cover housing costs for foster youth enrolled in college. I’ve also worked to cut the bureaucratic red tape that limited options for transition-age youth and foster care providers. And I’ve worked to secure additional funding for housing services in the state budget. It’s a topic that I’m passionate about and I’ve written about it before in this publication.

To give you some background: When children are victims of abuse or neglect, California’s juvenile court system holds legal jurisdiction over their care and our child welfare services system appoints a social worker to ensure that their needs are met. In cases when the court removes a child from his/her parents, the child is placed in what we know as the foster care system. California currently has over 53,000 youth between the ages of 0 and 21 in foster care. Under the law, these are our children and the state has a responsibility to ensure that they receive the care and support they need.

Historically, we have at many times fallen short of that responsibility. For foster youth transitioning into adulthood and independence, those shortcomings have left them especially vulnerable.

The statistics have been alarming. As youth emancipated from the system after turning 18 they faced enormous challenges, often leading to poverty, homelessness and incarceration.

To address the problem, California was one of the first states to opt into the federal opportunity to create an Extended Foster Care program, extending the time that foster youth can remain in the system of care from 18 to 21 years of age. Over the past 13 years, the program has shown welcome improvements for foster youth; however, access to housing has remained a challenge.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Public Health found that between 31% and 46% of former foster youth had been homeless at least once by age 26. More recently, a 2020 University of Chicago Chapin Hall study revealed that more than one in four transition-age youth reported experiencing at least one night of homelessness in the past two years while nearly 30% said they had couch surfed, or stayed with friends, because they lacked housing.

Both federal and state law provide protections to ensure that young people leave foster care with a concrete plan for discharge that provides safety, stability and an opportunity to thrive. For example, state law requires county child welfare agencies, at the last scheduled review hearing held before a dependent child turns 18 years old and at every review hearing thereafter, to submit a report verifying that certain documents, information and services have been provided to the minor or non-minor, including birth certificates, Social Security cards and a valid ID, as well as assistance in applying for college, career technical programs and housing.

However, the law is unclear regarding whether a court can maintain jurisdiction over a youth once they turn 21 when the county child welfare agency has not met the requirements of the program to support youth in successfully transitioning to independence with critical documents that enable them to secure education, employment and, most importantly, housing.

Let’s be clear: When a county fails to provide assistance to secure housing, youth are exiting the foster care system to homelessness.

We cannot allow foster youth to fall through the cracks. We need to have appropriate enforcement tools to ensure that counties are meeting their obligation to provide transition-age youth with the documentation and supportive services they need before they leave the system.  

That’s why I introduced AB 867 to provide a final backstop of sorts to ensure that foster youth have everything they need as they approach independence. The bill provides clear benchmarks for counties so they’re providing timely discharge services. The bill also gives foster youth an opportunity to remain in care until the required appropriate documents and services have been provided to ensure a safe transition into independence by allowing courts the discretion to keep a case open after youth have reached their 21st birthday.

We have an obligation to care for and support foster youth as they grow to adulthood. Passing AB 867 is just one piece of the puzzle that’s needed to keep foster youth from falling into homelessness and I’m committed to continuing the work to protect our youth.

What do you think about AB 867 and the challenges facing California’s foster youth? Please feel free to reach out to me with any comments, questions or concerns through my District Office at (818) 558-3043 or

Assemblymember Laura Friedman