New Laws Strengthen Educational, Other Supports for Calif. Foster Youth

This month, Calif. Governor Jerry Brown signed a raft of legislation aimed at improving the lives of children and youth in foster care. In addition to the package of bills designed to stem the overprescribing of psychotropic medication for foster youth, and AB 403 which will greatly reduce the number of youth placed in group homes, Brown signed several other significant foster care bills before last Sunday’s midnight deadline.

The legislation aims to bolster educational support for foster youth, preserve and strengthen the bond between parenting foster youth and their children, and in a landmark piece of legislation, extend protections to transgender foster youth.

Education

Assembly Bill 854, introduced by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) ensures that Foster Youth Services (FYS), a statewide program providing educational counseling and tutoring services to foster youth, will be available to all K-12 students in foster care. Previously, foster youth placed with relatives were not eligible for FYS services, resulting in only 30 percent of California’s foster youth receiving the services that have been shown to improve educational outcomes.

Sponsored by the National Center for Youth Law, AB 854 expands FYS eligibility criteria to match the broader definition of “foster youth” found in the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) for K-12 education. The bill also leverages the county FYS programs to support school districts in implementing LCFF for foster youth.

“Regardless of placement, these children are our responsibility,” Weber said in a press release announcing the bill. “We know that foster children living with relatives face the same barriers to academic achievement as youth in group homes. It just makes sense that we give all of these children the additional support they need for success.”

Signed by Brown on October 11, the law will go into effect this school year.

Assembly Bill 379 by Assemblymember Richard S. Gordon (D-Menlo Park) provides foster and homeless children a means of enforcing their educational rights. For more than a decade, these children have had the right to remain in their school of origin, the right to transfer partial credits to a new school, and immediately enroll in a comprehensive school, among other protections. In his press release, Gordon noted that these rights “are often routinely ignored.”

Under this law, foster and homeless youth who believe their educational rights have been violated can utilize the California Department of Education’s Uniform Complaint Procedure to file a complaint. The law also requires the state to inform foster and homeless youth of the complaint procedure every year and to provide them with their school district’s contact person who is responsible for receiving the complaints.

Signed by Brown on October 11, the law will go into effect January 1, 2016.

Pregnant and Parenting Foster Youth

Assembly Bill 260, authored by Assemblymember Patty Lopez (D-San Fernando) and sponsored by California Youth Connection, declares that a child whose parent is a foster youth will “not be considered at risk of abuse or neglect solely on the basis of information concerning the parent’s placement history, past behaviors, health or mental health diagnoses occurring prior to the pregnancy, except as specified.” The law also ensures that parenting foster youth are referred to preventative services designed to support them in the care of their child.

“It is only right,” Lopez said in her press release, “that we give foster youth who are parents the ability to care for their child while maintaining the principals of keeping families together.”

Signed by Brown on October 6, the law will go into effect January 1, 2016.

Transgender Foster Youth

Senate Bill 731, introduced by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and co-authored by Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), gives child welfare workers the ability to consider a foster child’s gender identity when making foster care placement decisions.

The bill adds the following language to the Welfare and Institutions Code: “Children and nonminor dependents in out-of-home care shall be placed according to their gender identity, regardless of the gender or sex listed in their court or child welfare records.” Prior to the law, the state did not provide child welfare workers specific guidance in the placement of transgender foster youth.

The bill, co-sponsored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Equality California, and Transgender Law Center is the first of its kind in the nation, according to NCLR.

“Young people have a better opportunity to thrive in situations where they are fully accepted and supported for who they are,” Leno said in a press release. “Entering the foster care system is challenging for all youth, but it can actually be damaging for young people whose identities are not affirmed by their caregivers and peers.”

Signed by Brown on October 11, the law will go into effect January 1, 2016.

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Melinda Clemmons
About Melinda Clemmons 26 Articles
Melinda Clemmons is a freelance writer and editor based in Oakland, California.