by Jeremy Loudenback
Proposed state legislation scheduled for debate in the California Assembly’s Human Services Committee on Tuesday aims to bring pregnant and parenting foster youth a much-needed housing alternative.
Assembly Bill 2668, a new bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, would provide transition-age foster youth with a special, modified version of the state’s supervised independent living placement (SILP). The SILP is a relatively new option for 18- to 21-year-olds who choose to remain in California’s foster care system.
With a SILP, transition-age foster youths ready for a more independent living arrangement can find a place on their own through financial support available under AB 12.
For pregnant and parenting foster youth close to becoming adults, stable housing options are scarce. And without a solid foundation of support, researchers agree that young mothers are more likely to experience negative outcomes like homelessness and unemployment.
While SILP arrangements offer some teens in the foster care system an important step to independence, they may not always provide young parents with a nurturing environment or the crucial support of an adult caregiver.
The new SILP plan under AB 2668 would encourage eligible pregnant and parenting foster youth to obtain additional support through the use of a “shared responsibility plan,” a key provision of many pregnant and parenting teen services used by Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
Formed in collaboration with an involved foster parent or mentor, a shared responsibility plan helps pregnant and parenting foster youth develop vital parent‐child bonds and form essential pathways for transitioning to independence by outlining the teen parent’s responsibilities and identifying supportive services to be provided by a responsible adult.
By formalizing a relationship with an adult and completing the plan, a young parent would receive an additional $200 a month under the legislation, as well as a relationship that might serve as a significant protective measure.
Mara Ziegler, a social worker with Public Counsel who has experience working with pregnant and parenting teens, says that providing parenting foster teens with resources and financial support is key part of ensuring stability.
“Linkage to services is an incredibly important concern for a vulnerable population like this, and it’s essential that we make sure that pregnant foster teens don’t fall through the cracks,” she said.
The modified SILP would slot in as a more independent alternative to whole family foster homes, which is an existing placement for pregnant and parenting foster youth.
After completing required training and education, whole family foster parents receive an additional $200 per month, and youths in the placements benefit from mentoring and support services from the agency.
Advocates credit whole family foster homes with the type of support that is essential for parenting teens in the foster care system, a group that often lacks stability and the mentorship of a responsible adult figure.
“Prior to whole family foster homes, foster youth who were parenting weren’t able to receive as much funding or support,” said Susan Abrams, an attorney at Children’s Law Center. “As a result, many of these foster youth ended up in group homes.”
But finding enough eligible whole family foster home placements has been difficult. According to Kristine Grush, a social worker with DCFS, Los Angeles County accounted for 293 pregnant foster youth from the ages of 13 to 20 as of November 2013, but thus far only 13 whole family foster homes are available to pregnant and parenting foster youth.
The county is in desperate need of additional whole family foster home placements that offer a more stable environment for young parents, but so far, foster parents have been reluctant to take in pregnant foster youths under the whole family foster home model.
“A lot of them wonder, ‘Am I going to take care of the baby too, or will I just have to handle the teen?’” said Hipolito Mendez, the director of pregnant and parenting teen conferences for DCFS.
Jeremy Loudenback is a graduate student of public policy at the University of Southern California. He wrote this story while taking the Media for Social Change class.