Giving Child Care Priority to Foster Youth with Kids

A California State Senator introduced a bill last Friday to assist parenting youth in the state’s foster care system with child care resources and parenting programs.

Sen. Leland Yee, Ph.D., introduced Senate Bill 528, which would prioritize subsidized child care for parenting foster youth. Current law prioritizes foster parents on the list for reduced-price child care, but not the youth in care who are parents.

Yee says this inclusion would provide necessary assistance for young parents in foster care.

“Parenting and pregnant youth are 200 percent more likely to drop out of high school than to graduate, leaving them without the means to achieve economic stability,” said Sen. Yee in a press release. “It is imperative that we provide basic resources and assistance for pregnant and parenting teens who are in foster care. SB 528 will assist these foster youth and their children at the most critical time in their lives, and will save taxpayer dollars in the long run.”

The estimated cost of the bill will be decided by the Appropriations Committee once the bill hits its desk. But SB 528’s first stop is to the Senate Committee on Human Services, of which Sen.Yee is chair. The bill is expected to pass the committee by early April and hit appropriations within two weeks.

Yet Adam Keigwin of Sen. Yee’s office says while cost is certainly a concern, they expect there will be a number of policy questions associated with the bill, particularly surrounding what group of people would lose priority if parenting foster youth are added.

“When you bump someone to the top of the [priority] list, someone goes down. But it still doesn’t make sense that foster parents get priority but not the youth who are parents,” said Keigwin.

The bill would also expand statewide a Los Angeles county program called Team Decision Making, which provides parenting teens in care with individual conferences with specialists and adults of their choice who can help them create a plan for raising the child.

“We want to do more for the kids that are coming in and we want to break the cycle,” said Keigwin, chief of staff for Sen. Yee.

SB 528 has two other additions that would address parenting and the foster care system. First, the proposed legislation would require the California Department of Social Services to collect data regarding the number of foster youth who are also parents.

Second, the bill would require counties to ensure all foster youth receive age-appropriate reproductive health education. Currently, no agency is responsible for educating youth about their reproductive health. Keigwin says this lack of education has resulted in higher than average rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among youth in foster care.  For female foster youth who have been pregnant, 30 percent will experience a second pregnancy while in foster care, according to Yee’s office.

The major push for this bill came from advocates of the Children’s Law Center, the Alliance for Children’s Rights, and the John Burton Foundation.

“Young parents in foster care are among our most vulnerable,” said Amy Lemley, policy director for the John Burton Foundation, in a press release. “These young people are doing the hard work of raising children on their own, without family support, in a system that often fails to meet their basic needs. ”

Sen.Yee has recently introduced other legislation to improve the lives of youth in care. SB 342 would require social workers to provide monthly in-home visits of foster youth. SB 343 would ensure that foster youth who are 16 or older are provided with critical documents, such as their social security card and copy of their birth certificate, that are necessary to obtaining employment and applying for college.

Assistance for parenting youth in care has been a nationwide discussion. Researchers at the University of Chicago Chapin Hall analyzed administrative data from the Teen Parenting Service Network in 2009 to better understand the needs of parenting youth in care in Illinois.

The report, called “Pregnant and Parenting Foster Youth: Their Needs, Their Experiences,” found that at least 30 percent of the female foster youth interviewed had been pregnant more than once, and nearly 90 percent of their pregnancies resulted in a live birth. In addition, having more than one child was a significant barrier to educational attainment among female foster youth. Each additional child reduced the odds of having a high school diploma or GED by 45 percent.

The report suggests policy makers implement policies to prevent repeat pregnancies among female foster youth and create interventions to improve the school success of pregnant and parenting foster youth—including males.

“Between 1990 and 2006, the teen pregnancy rate here in the US fell 38 percent. The teen birth rate has also fallen substantially over the past few decades,” said Amy Dworsky, researcher at Chapin Hall and co –author of the report, during an address at the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy roundtable in 2011.

“But despite these downward trends, the risk of teenage pregnancy remains extremely high relative to other industrialized countries, and it’s particularly high among several sub populations and one of those populations is young people in foster care.”

Chapin Hall is hosting a live webcast and event on March 14 about collaborative approaches to teen pregnancy prevention. The event will focus on how public agencies can partner with community organizations to address the public health issues surrounding young pregnancy, and address economic and social implications nationwide.

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