Last month, California State Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino) introduced a bill aimed at decreasing the rate of unintended pregnancies for the state’s foster youth.
“California has undergone a significant demographic change, with a full one in four youth in foster care age 16 or older,” said Amy Lemley, executive director of John Burton Advocates for Youth, a co-sponsor of the bill. “SB 245 reflects this change and re-tools California’s child welfare system to meet the needs of this older population of foster youth by ensuring they receive comprehensive sexual health education and ensuring that the workforce is well-trained to protect their reproductive rights.”
More than half of female foster youth in California have been pregnant at least once by the age of 19 – more than three times higher than their peers not in foster care – according to fact sheet provided by St. Leyva’s office. By age 21, more than one-third of young women in foster care will give birth.
Complications arise when these young women cannot afford childcare, or choose to work instead of complete their high school education. Babies born to teen mothers are more likely to be placed in foster care than babies born to older mothers, according to 2013 article written by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act is a federal law enacted in 2008 that expanded support for youth in foster care by allowing states to use federal funds to provide care up to age 21, and includes several provisions that may help foster youth delay pregnancy and childbearing. However, the bill’s language requires states to help adolescents develop their own personalized transition plan, which may or may not include information relating to sexual health and services.
Senate Bill (SB) 245 tries to fill that gap by creating four new state mandated provisions:
- Foster youth 12 and older will receive sexual health education every year throughout their time in foster care
- Documents must be added to the youth’s case plan every year describing how the child welfare agency provides all of the necessary information to foster youth about their sexual health
- A statewide curriculum will be developed on the reproductive rights of foster youth, including how to document in case plans, who will ensure the services are provided, and how to speak about sexual health to foster youth
- Social workers, judges, licensed foster parents, relative caregivers, group home personnel and personnel working for foster family agencies must all be trained on the statewide curriculum
Some foster youth currently have access to sex education through group home staff. Other youths rely on sex education they receive from public school. However, a 2009 Public Health Institute article, “No Time for Complacency: Sexual Health Needs of California’s Foster and Transitioning Youth,” states that because of the many changes in foster home placements and the high number of absences from school as a result, youth often miss out on the school-based sex education that focuses on pregnancy and STI prevention through abstinence and condom usage. This may lead to unsafe sexual practices.
When asked about mandating comprehensive sexual health education for foster youth age 12 and older, Isaac Casas, a program manager at Maryvale, which provides intensive mental health services and care for girls ages 8 to 18, says that it’s a good idea with one condition.
“As long as youth themselves want to be educated or want to know about these issues. Education should be youth-driven … [Sex education] shouldn’t necessarily be mandated for each child,” Casas said.
Danielle Carrillo is currently earning a Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy, and is a proud graduate of UCLA. She wrote this story for USC’s Media for Policy Change course.