By Christie Renick
As we move through 2013’s legislative cycle, a handful of states appear to be ready to pass new laws that expand foster youth rights and services. At the same time, a controversial situation has arisen in South Dakota in which the state has failed to adhere to the laws set forth in 1978 by the Indian Child Welfare Act, and every few weeks newspaper headlines across the country announce yet another child death as a result of a failed child welfare system.
Take a further step back and the research shows that while the United States as a whole has access to more money and more resources than any other country, the United States also has the highest rate of teen pregnancy among developed countries. And teen pregnancy is highest among foster youth. Clearly the child welfare system in the US is not doing enough to help these youth make educated decisions about becoming parents and about protecting themselves from sexually transmitted infections.
A few organizations have taken the reins on this issue in the state of California, which often leads the nation in child welfare policy. SB 528, introduced by Senator Leland Yee and sponsored by the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the Children’s Law Center, the John Burton Foundation and Public Counsel, is attempting to establish a foster youth’s right to age-appropriate reproductive health information by mandating that social workers inform the youth of this right, by implementing a team conference model for pregnant and parenting foster youth, giving priority to these youth for subsidized child care, and finally, by requiring child welfare agencies to collect data about this population.
However, as SB 528 moves through California’s Senate and Assembly, the bill is slowly being stripped of those aspects that could have the greatest impact on a youth’s outcome and is dangerously close to becoming just another check box on a form a social worker may or may not complete. At its best, SB 528 could serve as a stepping stone toward more comprehensive reproductive health education for foster youth, but more importantly it demonstrates why, in order to actually change the trajectory of the lives of foster youth, the United States is desperately in need of a system built on a 360-degree approach to sex, sexual health, and parenting among these youth.
This paper outlines a few potential solutions that capitalize on already existing resources and programs and emphasizes the need for cooperation and collaboration among child welfare leaders and agencies.
Christie Renick is a graduate student at USC’s Sol Price School for Public Policy. She produced this paper as part of her coursework in the Media for Social Change class.