On February 12, 200 California Youth Connection (CYC) members, allies and community members gathered to celebrate 30 years of the organization’s youth-led advocacy in California, and to continue the fight with a new bill to prevent unnecessary placement changes for foster youth in the state.
That day, the steps of California State Capitol in Sacramento resonated with the voices of current and former foster youth, who chanted “C’mon, c’mon, join the fight! Stability is our right!” and “CYC is here to stay! Moving forward every day!”
I am a member of CYC’s Alameda County Chapter, as well as the organization’s statewide policy representative team. This year, we announced the goal of creating a youth-centered process for placement stability within the foster care system, which will be advanced through Assembly Bill (AB) 2247.
Every year, CYC gathers foster youth from across California for its Day at the Capitol Conference. The weekend-long conference features training around the legislative process that builds up to legislative visits with respective state assembly members and senators and a rally on Monday.
With this platform, foster youth have led systems-change efforts for years that resulted in the Foster Youth Bill of Rights, extended foster care and access to transitional housing through the age of 24, to name a few.
This year’s conference opened with a keynote from Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of Youth Law Center, and a former foster youth. She praised the focus of the new bill, emphasizing that abrupt placement changes happen because of systemic policies that often have little to do with youth behavior.
During the weekend, several groups of youth worked together to understand the policies included in AB 2247 and how to best tell their stories to support the legislation. Each county chapter also prepared a presentation for scheduled legislative meetings with local state representatives to ask for their support on the bill.
With a lot of fun activities like face painting, puzzles and hair-braiding, it was also a weekend of building community and developing leadership before the rally on Monday.
CYC youth received words of encouragement from Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D) at the rally.
“All of you young people are advocates. Each and every one of you are leaders. Each of you are fighting to make California a better place,” said Gipson, the sponsor of AB 2247. “You give me hope, and the energy I need to go back and advocate on behalf of every foster youth in California.”
AB 2247 was drafted to “prevent unnecessary placement changes that negatively impact a youth’s well-being.” We hope to outlaw placement changes that happen in the middle of the night and those that result in the loss of educational credits for foster youth.
It will also mandate youth-centered transitional services including mediation, Child and Family Team Meetings and restorative practices that could prevent unnecessary placement changes. Finally, AB 2247 would also develop a process where foster youth would be able to notify the Office of the State Foster Care Ombudsperson about violations of placement changes, and that office would be required to investigate.
Placement stability is a big issue for the more than 60,000 children placed in the state’s foster care system. According to 2018 California Children’s Report Card, “nearly 28 percent of children in foster care for 12 months or longer experience three or more placement moves.” Some foster youth experience more than that; I talked with one young person over the weekend who survived more than 50 placement changes.
Many foster youth are familiar with the language of a “seven-day notice,” the document that announces a placement change. But there is no formal process in state law for how a placement change must occur. Seven days is not an adequate timetable for a transition to another placement.
Nobody else makes a transition in this timeframe, and the reality is that many foster youth are moved in the middle of the night, pulled out of bed – or in the middle of the day, pulled out of school – with no notice at all.
That means no goodbyes, no packing, no sense of security. Employees leaving jobs usually give a minimum of two weeks notice. Families moving to a new home often plan their transition for six months to a year.
This is about a system operating with no regard for the impact of its decisions on youth lives and dreams. Right now, I feel like foster youth are disposable in this system. Big decisions about us are made without our input. Placement stability effects social stability and educational stability, which in turn influence many of the worst outcomes after youth age out of the foster care system.
Quijai Johnson, a member of CYC’s San Francisco County Chapter, spent 16 years in foster care with six different placements. To her, this bill means, “no more missed goodbyes to all the relationships established in the time being.”
For the past 30 years, CYC has been fighting for youth-led policy advocacy to build a system that works for the young people it claims to care about. This means that young people like me have a seat at the table.
This year, we proposed a solution to address the broken foundations of this system: placement stability. AB 2247 is part of that solution.
Katarina Kabick is a Title IV-E MSW student at University of California, Berkeley. She is an active member of the CYC Alameda County Chapter and the statewide policy team. She recently co-founded Y-LIFE (Young Leaders Igniting the Fight for Equity), which works to bring youth voice to providers, organizations and systems across the Bay Area.