Two of California’s most populous counties announced recently that they will protect services for foster youths caught in a legislative loophole, but another – San Bernardino County – says it simply cannot afford to shoulder the financial cost.
Los Angeles and Alameda Counties will use county funds to pay for 19-year-olds in foster care this year. Without that county support, those teens would be temporarily cut off from services because of the way Assembly Bill 12- a state law to expand foster care to age 21- was structured.
“Generally speaking we’re not in a position to do the county pay until January of next year,” says Jeff Luther, director of San Bernardino County Children. “For some of the youth with extenuating circumstances, they will qualify for foster care. There is some dispute as to whether the judge can order us to county pay, but the management team will look at it on a case by case basis.”
Child welfare advocates are hopeful that new legislation on the State Senate schedule for this week, will resolve the “bubble” issue in AB 12 for counties.
AB 1712 aims to fill the gaps left in AB 12 by allowing youth who turned 19 in 2012 to remain in foster care.
The bill is expected to receive a vote from the State Assembly Appropriations Committee this week.
“We’re hoping that the legislation will pass quickly,” says Chantel Johnson from the advocacy program California Youth Connection. “We’re also hoping that it will catch most of the youth that have their birthdays at the end of the year from being ineligible.”
San Bernardino County is one of the most populous counties in the United States, with a population of more than 2 million. The county is home to 4,053 foster youth, with up to 141 of them 18- to- 19-year-old bubble kids and it has elected not to extend foster care for them.
Luther, who served on the policy implementation board for AB 12 services, estimates that 120 youth may be affected by the gap in services as some may be involved in the juvenile justice system. He says the county will evaluate extending care on a case-by-case basis, and they will not know how many youth will want to stay in care until after high school graduation this year.
San Bernardino Children’s Services Director DeAnna Avey-Motikeit says the majority of the 150 kids who are eligible for extended foster care at 18 have stayed with their foster families, adding that current safety net programs will take care of youth being exited from foster care due to the gap.
“I think that there’s not going to be anything happening to these kids besides the traditional,” says Avey-Motikeit. “We have THP-Plus and aftercare programs. The intention is always to have them connected to a relative.”
Passed in 2010, Assembly Bill 12- (AB 12)- extended foster care for youth up to 21 years old so long as they are working or in school, or have health issues that prevent them from doing either. Once the plan for AB 12 is approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, California would receive matching federal funds to provide for these transition-age youth.
Chantel Johnson, legislative and policy coordinator for California Youth Connection, advocated for AB 12 and believes it is a step forward to improving outcomes for foster youth.
“AB 12 was intended to avoid homelessness, the incarceration of young children transitioning, and to prevent some of the bad outcomes,” says Johnson.
However, because of a tight budget, the state planned a gradual implementation of the law, with care being extended to 18-year-olds in January, 2012 and 19-year-olds in January, 2013. This has created a gap in services for foster youth who are turning 19 before January 2013 and 20 before January 2014.
“Youth are suffering from false hope, a lot of them have been identified as benefiting from extended care and then are dropped from services,” says Johnson.
Many of the bubble kids in San Bernardino will turn to nonprofits and county aftercare programs, which some say are underfunded and swamped by the level of need.
Jacqueline White, director of youth employment programs for the Provisional Accelerated Learning Center in San Bernardino County, says her agency works to provide more than 300 kids with jobs, housing and stability during one of the most difficult times in their lives.
“I’m seeing more and more exiting probation and foster care without direction,” says White. “They try to find a job but they just do not have skills.”
White describes one girl’s struggle to make it after being exited from the system when she did not qualify for extended care.
“I called 20 different places to get housing with no luck,” says White. “She had to go to a mental hospital and say she wanted to hurt herself so she could get somewhere to stay.”