Each year about 5,000 young people age out of California’s foster care system. Many of these young people emancipate to a life with no supports, a life in which during the first year of “freedom”, one in three will be arrested, one in five will experience homelessness and over half will end up on some form of public assistance. Only one percent will ever graduate from college. It does not have to be this way.
California has an unprecedented opportunity to access federal funding to support the state’s most vulnerable children and youth – those exiting the foster care system. That opportunity sits on the Governor’s desk. It is the California Fostering Connections to Success Act (AB 12).
In 2008, President Bush signed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act into law that allows states to draw down federal matching funds to support relative caregivers and continue certain services for foster youth until the age of 21. But the states must pass their own legislation in order to take advantage of these federal funds.
AB 12 was introduced in the state legislature to do just that. It would allow California to utilize federal funds to meet costs currently borne by the state and counties and to realize proven savings from declines in unemployment, homelessness, teen pregnancy, public assistance and the other costly outcomes for young adults who age out of foster care at 18.
Silicon Valley Community Foundation cares deeply about this issue and has worked with community partners in San Mateo County for the past five years on Fostering the Future, an ambitious initiative designed to help young people leaving the foster care system become productive adults. Over the years we have learned a great deal about the obstacles they must overcome, often totally alone, when they age out of the system at age 18. Research demonstrates that youth who remain in care beyond age 18 achieve markedly better later life outcomes than those who do not.
In this climate of paralyzing partisan deadlock, AB 12 enjoys the support and sponsorship of both legislative Democrats and Republicans. In 2009, the nonpartisan Child Welfare Council, co-chaired by Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno and California Health and Human Services Secretary Kim Belshé, unanimously recommended expanding support for youth in foster care to age 21, the very purpose of AB 12.
Furthermore advocates and politicians in California have worked diligently and successfully to find a cost-neutral way for the state to provide this extended support.
The fate of this legislation is now in the Governor’s hands. The choice is clear. If we want our most vulnerable youth to become educated, productive and law-abiding adults who are capable of entering the economic mainstream rather than disadvantaged adults who have to rely on public resources, then we need to ensure that AB 12 becomes a law.