The topic of the program was foster youth and how they are faring during the pandemic. Aja spent the first ten minutes discussing her own experiences in foster care, as well as those of other foster youth during the COVID-19 pandemic. And she talked about JBAY’s work to help foster youth and improve the system.
Aja went into foster care with her siblings after an episode of domestic violence. According to Aja, that experience was traumatic and difficult at such a young age, “If you look at how old we were that was way too much on us,” said Aja. “They traumatized us during the process, and I was triggered every time I went to a new placement and different school.”
Aja was in four foster homes and attended six different high schools in the Sacramento Area, remaining committed to her education throughout her experience. In 2018, she graduated from high school and now attends Sacramento State, where she majors in criminal justice.
According to Aja, the pandemic has been particularly difficult for youth who have been in foster care. Without extended family to provide support, foster youth are left to fend for themselves. Many have lost jobs, had their work hours reduced, experienced food insecurity, and struggled with mental health challenges.
Aja also told KQED about the challenges foster youth faced when schools and colleges switched entirely to virtual learning: “Some of the foster youth didn’t have laptops, some didn’t even have cell phones or wifi. So John Burton Advocates for Youth helped them get laptops and cellphones.”
In May, JBAY conducted a survey of youth providers to understand how foster youth were faring during the pandemic. It found that many young people are struggling: 77% of respondents served youth that have been laid off, 76% served youth that have had work hours severely cut and 50% served youth that have a week or less of money available.
Mental health was the area of biggest challenge: 83% served youth that experienced depression, anxiety or another mental health condition.
As a young leader and former foster youth, Aja is playing an important role in raising awareness about the unique challenging facing foster youth. She will play an important role in JBAY’s legislative agenda in 2021.
To listen to Aja on Forum together with other guests, follow this link: https://www.kqed.org/forum/2010101881283/what-the-pandemic-means-for-youth-in-foster-care-and-their-families