by Eric-Michael Wilson
Eight out of ten California foster youths have elected to remain in care past the age of 18 since the state raised its foster care threshold to age 21, according to a leader close to the new policy.
Since Assembly Bill 12 took effect in January of 2012, 4,070 18-20 year olds in California have taken advantage of the opportunity to remain in foster care, according to Amy Lemley, policy director at the John Burton Foundation for Homeless Youth.
On Jan. 1, 2012, Assembly Bill 12 (AB12) was officially implemented under California law, and it extended the opportunity of staying in foster care up to the age of 21. This extension of foster care was made to help youth transitioning to adulthood by working to provide them with the skills necessary to survive on their own.
It is the state equivalent of the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008. The federal law enables states to seek federal reimbursement for foster care services aimed at teens and young adults up to the age of 21.
Barring a serious medical condition or impairment, the requirement to remain in care past 18 is fulfilling one of the following:
- Completing high school or an equivalent program
- Enrolling in college, community college or vocational education programs
- Working at least 80 hours a month
- Participating in a program designed to remove barriers to employment, or be unable to do any of the above because of a medical condition.
“Very few [youth] do not qualify,” said Kenneth Shaw, Coordinator of Alameda County’s Independent Living Services Program (ILSP) said in a phone interview with The Chronicle of Social Change. “If they don’t, it’s because they’re not doing anything, they’re not trying.”
But others note early indications that many foster youths are not choosing to stay in care. Those youth who don’t meet the requirements, or just choose to leave the system and live on their own, often have to face a world of difficulties once reaching independence.
“Some people don’t see that continuing [in care] is going to be helpful because it feels like more of the same,” said Kate Teague, Bay Area regional coordinator for the California Youth Connection. “Some people are tired of dealing with the system and want to give it a shot outside.”
Lemley said that many youth who choose to opt out of the program do so because it will allow them to be eligible for the CalWORKS welfare program, which gives cash aid and services to those in need and offers better parenting programs for young people with children.
“80 percent are electing to remain in care,” said Lemley, and those that choose not to stay often do so out of their disillusionment, though some decide to return later. “[It’s] not a perfect program, but in an era in which a lot of programs are being cut, it offers something positive for youth that are trying to do something better with themselves.”
Qadry Presley, a Los Angeles County resident who aged out of the system a year prior to AB12’s implementation, said staying in care would have helped him.
“It would have been very useful compared to the lack of resources available for me now,” said Presley. “When you’re on your own and have nobody there, just having someone there in general to oversee that process would have been a big help. There’s not enough attention paid to the psychological needs of those coming out of foster care – the instability of not having parents throughout your childhood can have a large impact on anyone’s psyche.”
Presley isn’t alone in this solo pursuit of stability. He said a friend who had gotten into the University of California-Berkeley, but decided to take time away from her college endeavors in order to get her own life situated.
“She happens to get by from the resources made available to her by her church. She’s been out of school now for about a year,” Presley said.
Teague said some youths choose to not take advantage of extended foster care because they are not informed of the option. Others, she says, are disillusioned with foster care services by the time they reach 18.
Youths ”have heard that [AB12] is there, but there’s much less information about logistics” being made available for eligible youth,” Teague said.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, several thousand youth aged out of the foster care system every year in California, throwing vast majorities of them into the harsh realities of poverty, homelessness, and crime, amongst a number of other factors contributed to by not having a family to support their growing processes.