by Nefertiti Franks
Being in the foster care system in San Francisco, I’ve experienced everything from a kinship placement with my grandmother to running away from home and getting in trouble. I entered the system in 2006 and didn’t exit until just last year. I barely graduated middle school the year I went into care because my grandmother had passed away and my mother wasn’t looking out for me.
I’ve been through two foster homes, three group homes, and was almost adopted. Through this all, the only person I was ever able to count on was my lawyer.
When I got into my first foster home, I met my lawyer the next week and she asked me what my situation was. I told her that my mother wasn’t supporting me through school, I didn’t have a future, and I feared becoming a stereotype. From that point on, my lawyer fought for me in all court hearings and any meetings regarding the decisions being made about my life.
She helped me get visitation with my sister, she helped me through any drama I had in the group homes, and she was there whenever my biological mother tried to create more obstacles to my wellbeing.
To be honest, my lawyer fought for me more than anyone. More than my social worker, more than my independent living case worker, more than my therapist, more than my CASA, more than even my boss or the staff at my group home. More than any other person in my life.
This past April 17, I went to a meeting of the California Judicial Council where I was shocked to hear stories about how different counties struggled to advocate for or represent their foster youth due to huge attorney caseloads. I thought to myself, ‘Does that mean some of my friends who are in California Youth Connection (CYC) or other foster youth who are living in these counties aren’t getting proper representation?!’
In the end, proper representation in the court system is needed to help break the cycle of foster care for the over 60,000 youth in the system. And the only way we can achieve that is with the help of Governor Brown.
Child welfare advocates have convinced the legislature to include $33 million in their proposed state budget to help reduce the caseloads of dependency attorneys statewide. Gov. Jerry Brown also recognized the extreme impact of this problem in his initial budget, which was released in January of this year.
But his revised budget provides no new funding. If we fail to support these lawyers for foster youth, then our system will continue to fail others like me.
A lot has changed in the foster care system from 2006 to now, but I still know I can count on my lawyer anytime even after I’ve already emancipated. She is the one person that I can remember having positive interactions with from my early teenage years to now as I’m an adult. Her name is Julia Teneyck, and she was and is the one person I have always been able to count on.
Nefertiti Franks is a member of the California Youth Connection, San Francisco Chapter