An effort to extend financial support to California’s probation-involved foster youth cleared another legislative hurdle yesterday when Senate Bill 12 was unanimously approved by an Assembly committee. In one of its final pushes, the Assembly Judiciary Committee passed the bill in a 10-0 vote.
The measure is, in the words of its author Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), designed “to stabilize the lives of foster youth who were forced out of the foster care system by extending their benefits.”
Currently, benefits such as a monthly stipend and housing are available to most transition-age foster youth through a 2010 bill that Beall authored. Beall said he realized that “crossover” youth, those foster youth who entered the juvenile justice system, were not receiving benefits when they were released from juvenile hall or camps.
“Youth are slipping through the cracks between the child welfare system and the delinquency system,” Beall said.
SB 12 was inspired in part by a series of stories in The Chronicle of Social Change highlighting the divergent paths of two San Diego brothers in the foster care system. Because one brother, Terrick Bakhit, was in detention on his 18th birthday, he was denied the benefits of extended foster care received by his brother Joseph.
DeAngelo Cortijo, an intern at the National Center for Youth Law, spoke at Tuesday’s hearing about his firsthand experience as a crossover youth. Cortijo was removed from his home when he was two after his mother attempted suicide. He was placed with family members, and at one point returned to his mother, before he was sent to foster care amid reports of abuse. Since then, he was in over four detention facilities, and ran away from group home placements several times.
“When I was released, I faced many challenges,” Cortijo said. “I now have to fend for myself as an adult. I had to find stable and clean housing. I didn’t have an income to support myself.”
Cortijo was left depending on others for the most basic needs like purchasing a toothbrush or borrowing socks.
“Do you know what that does to a person’s confidence? It completely destroys it,” he said.
With extended benefits in place, Cortijo would have received about $800 a month, just like other transition-age foster youth, to help pay for food, housing and school.
Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of the Youth Law Center, said these probation youth in transition are exactly who extended foster care aims to support.
“We know that the rates of homelessness, unemployment and incarceration for young people who cross from dependency to delinquency are double to triple the rates for youth who are just in dependency or delinquency,” she said.
According to the Youth Law Center there are approximately 4,000 probation-supervised foster youth in California. There are over 50,000 foster youth in the state.
“These foster youth need these benefits just as any other foster youth,” said Youth Law Center’s Cat McCulloch. “We need to take care of them through difficult periods of their lives, not just abandon them once they make contact with the delinquency system.”
Angie Schwartz, Policy Director for the Alliance for Children’s Rights, said that without SB 12, these youth are deprived of the same rights and protections afforded to the others participating in extended foster care.
“Because they made a mistake, they are missing out,” Schwartz said. “It is our duty as their parents to protect and support these young people.”
In early hearings, SB 12 was met with opposition from Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC), who said it required probation departments, not child welfare, to provide funding and make visits to the youth.
“The current program is not adequately funded, and probation does not receive funding for the staff costs associated with serving these youth,” said Rosemary Lamb McCool, deputy director of CPOC.
Schwartz said this was not true, especially for youth reentering foster care.
Schwartz explained to the committee that the federal government pays 50 percent of the placement and supervision cost. The remaining 50 percent is split evenly between the child welfare agency and probation.
CPOC voiced concern about tracking transitioning foster youth throughout the country, without reimbursements for their officers or organization. In cases in which foster youth leave the state, a probation officer is mandated to visit the youth every 30 days. CPOC probation officers believe social workers—not probation officers—should handle these cases.
Each county has the freedom to individually decide what agency will supervise transitioning crossover youth. Currently, all California counties but one have decided that probation officers would play that role.
CPOC opposes this role and McCool also stated that additional time should be spent examining what other resources and funding are needed to improve the current program before it is expanded.
“By expanding the population, you are adding more strains to an already strained system, and setting expectations that there is an infrastructure to meet the needs of these youth when there is not,” McCool said.
The bill was met with unanimous support in all committees and is headed to appropriations.
“The dependency population and delinquency population are really the same kids,” Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley) said. “This is a step we need to align those systems to ensure that we have the best system for all of them.”
Sawsan Morrar is a freelance journalist based in Sacramento, and was one of the first participants in the Journalism for Social Change Massive Online Open Course.