The Chronicle of Social Change is tracking key bills on child welfare making their way through California’s legislative session. Below are of the some of the most significant bills being debated.
Easing Access to College Financial Aid for Foster Youth
In California, foster youth are 29 percent less likely than non-foster youth to persist at least one year at community college.
Access to financial aid matters in college completion. A February 2017 report on community college students in California found that 47 percent of students with a zero-expected family contribution who received more than $7,500 in financial aid graduated or transferred, compared to 17 percent of their peers who received between $1,001 and $2,500 in aid.
Foster youth often lack assistance in completing financial aid applications, have trouble verifying their dependency status to receive aid or lack access to supportive on-campus programs.
Three proposed bills would smooth the path for foster youth to access financial aid and complete college.
Senate Bill (SB) 12, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Beall (D-San Jose), would require every county child welfare agency to identify a person to help foster youth through the financial aid application process. It would replace a paper-based process verifying a foster youth’s dependency status when completing the FAFSA with a data match between the California Department of Social Services and the California Student Aid Commission. The bill would also expand the Cooperating Agencies Foster Youth Education Support (CAFYES) Program, which provides extra on-campus support for current and former foster youth.
SB 12 is scheduled for a hearing in the Assembly Committee on Human Services on April 25.
A related bill, Assembly Bill (AB) 1567 introduced by Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), would require each community college and California State University campus to automatically enroll foster youth eligible for financial aid in a campus support program and notify youth of how to access their financial aid and support program benefits.
The bill awaits a hearing in the Assembly Higher Education Committee.
A third bill, AB 766, introduced by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), would help foster youth in college with living expenses by enabling family aid for dependent children to be applied towards student housing, such as in a college dormitory.
This bill awaits a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Clarifying Caregiver Access to Foster Youth Records
Current law is unclear on what educational records caregivers can access to support youth in their care.
SB 233, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Beall (D-San Jose), would remedy that by clarifying that caregivers can directly access records from schools, such as parent portals, grade reports, discipline and attendance records and individualized education plans (IEPs) for students receiving special-education services.
According to Angela Vasquez, associate director of bill co-sponsor FosterEd: California, a driver of the bill was the advent of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) program, which provides school districts additional funds for foster youth. As part of the LCFF process, school districts have been seeking better ways to engage caregivers, and caregivers need better ways to support their youth, Vasquez said.
“It’s been an issue for quite some time now, but LCFF brought it to the forefront – trying to engage all of the adults in students’ lives,” Vasquez said. “[This bill] gives a line of direct access to caregivers.”
While caregivers would be able to access the records of children in foster-care, a court-designated educational-rights holder would still retain decision-making power for every youth.
The next hearing for the bill is before the Senate Human Services Committee on April 25.
Providing More Child Care to Foster Parents
The lack of child care is one the biggest barriers for social workers trying to find placements for the youngest children entering the foster-care system, according to some advocates.
The “Emergency Child Care Bridge Program,” or AB 1164, would provide foster families and parenting foster youth with access to child care through a voucher system. Resource families and parenting foster youth would receive an emergency, time‐limited voucher to help them pay for child care for up to six months following a child’s placement. The program would also set aside some of the $22-million-a year budget on navigators that would help families find long-term child care and on trauma-informed training for child care providers.
AB 1164 was introduced by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Oakland) and is sponsored by Children Now and the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce. The bill was amended on April 18 and re-referred to the Committee on Appropriations.
Ensuring Access to Technology
The Foster Youth Bill of Rights, first written 15 years ago, has been due for an update, according to the California Youth Connection (CYC) and other advocates.
AB 811, a provision introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Compton), would add the right for foster youth to access computer technology and the Internet.
The current Bill of Rights guarantees foster youth the right to maintain connections with family members and the right to a quality education.
According to Vanessa Hernandez, CYC’s statewide legislative coordinator, her members were clear they need access to tech for homework and for family connections. Adding these provisions would be a natural extension to the Bill of Rights and an expression of the “values our members have long advocated for,” she said.
Co-sponsored by CYC and the Youth Law Center, the bill will be heard by the Assembly Committee on Public Safety on April 25.
Help for Foster Youth Participating in Extracurricular Activities
Participating in extracurricular activities—such as sports, clubs and field trips—can be a bridge to building healthy relationships for foster youth in high school and help them build a strong college application. But associated costs of participating in these activities often prevent many foster youth from accessing these hallmark school experiences.
AB 754, introduced by Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) and co-sponsored by CYC, seeks to address this issue by creating an extracurricular enrichment fund.
The bill would create a workgroup to establish eligibility criteria for foster youth to access grants under $500 each. Youth would need to submit receipts and documentation of how grants were used.
“Our members recognized that to feel normal and make relationships, to be involved in [extracurricular] activities was fun and important,” Hernandez said. “But barriers are the funding and logistical pieces. This enrichment fund really is angled at removing those barriers directly.”
The bill passed the Assembly Human Services Committee and awaits a hearing with the Appropriations Committee.
A Reform to Foster Family Training
Foster families are currently required by law to take eight hours of annual caregiver training.
“But what they take, where, and when they go is all over the place,” said CYC’s Hernandez. For example, she shared the example of families that house only teenagers, who may take an infant training class to meet a requirement deadline at the end of the year.
With AB 507, introduced by Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park) and co-sponsored by CYC and the Youth Law Center, foster families would instead work with their county agency to develop an annual training plan that is based on the needs of the children in their home.
“This bill empowers the family to create a training plan based on the children and youth in their home,” Hernandez said. “So it’s proactive and intentional versus just checking the box.”
The bill awaits a hearing from the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Sexual Health Rights of Foster Youth
SB 245 seeks to reduce those numbers by bolstering training for social workers and caregivers on foster youth sexual health and rights.
The bill, introduced by Connie Leyva (D-Chino) and co-sponsored by John Burton Advocates for Youth, the Children’s Law Center of California and the National Center for Youth Law, would also charge social workers with ensuring in their case plans that foster youth had access to sexual health education.
According to a brief from John Burton Advocates for Youth, foster youth often lack knowledge and access to contraception and have inconsistent access to sexual health education. Communicating about reproductive health is challenging for social workers and caregivers, and only a third of child welfare workers report feeling adequately trained on foster youth reproductive rights.
The bill is set for a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 25.
Carl Finer is a freelance writer focusing on education, community development, running, and child welfare.