JBAY Works to Expand Mental Health Services

“When I aged out of the system, I wasn’t able to access services anymore, so I ended up homeless,” says Cody, a former foster youth. “At that time, I wasn’t getting mental health services and was suicidal. I didn’t have help or assistance.”

Cody is not alone. Nine out of ten children in foster care have experienced a traumatic event, with nearly half reporting exposure to four or more types of traumatic event. Many of these youth are able to receive mental health services at their school but then lose this vital support when they go on to college. 

In response, JBAY is developing a new program to help foster youth receive the mental health services they need in community college. In collaboration with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health (DMH), JBAY is working to expand school-based mental health services, currently available only in K-12 settings, to community college students who have been in the foster care system. 

JBAY will start by establishing at least three Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between local community colleges and mental health agencies. Through this process, JBAY will collaborate with DMH to help their contracted mental health providers link up with community colleges interested in offering additional campus-based mental health services for foster youth. Then, JBAY will summarize lessons learned and best practices that can be replicated across other community colleges throughout the state. 

“Youth want to go to college, they want to better themselves. It is difficult for us to navigate through trauma and the policymakers are the ones who can give us that extended chance to keep going to college to get the resources that we need to do well,” said Cody,

Cody is now a JBAY Youth Advocate, sharing her experiences of the foster care system with the public, practitioners and policymakers. She is also on the road to becoming a therapist herself.

“I would not be here if it wasn’t for my therapists. Like school, my therapists were the most consistent people I had in my life. I want to be the same for others when they don’t have that consistency,” said Cody. “Even just seeing a therapist once a week, that can be enough consistency. And it makes a difference. I don’t think people realize how much of a difference it really can make. But for me, it is why I’m here.”

Governor Signs Law To Improve Foster Youth Access to College Aid

Emmerald EvansGovernor Gavin Newsom signed new legislation late Monday to increase participation in college by foster youth by requiring state-funded agencies to assist foster youth in completing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A pilot project by John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) showed that this type of assistance raised foster youth FAFSA completion rates from just 45% in 2017 to 64% in 2020.

“For too long, far too many foster youth have been denied their dream of a college education because they were unable to obtain the financial aid available to them,” said Amy Lemley, executive director of JBAY, which sponsored the bill. “By following the model of JBAY’s FAFSA Challenge program, this new law will help foster youth access tens of millions of dollars of additional aid.” 

While 85 percent of foster youth say they aspire to go to college, just eight percent achieve a bachelor’s degree by age 26 compared with 46 percent of the general population. Only 46 percent of foster youth entering community college receive the Pell Grant and just 12 percent receive the CalGrant, despite the vast majority meeting the income eligibility criteria for this financial aid. The primary reason for this gap is that these youth are not successfully completing the complex and often daunting FAFSA process.

Testifying in support of SB860, Emmerald Evans, a Youth Advocate for John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), told the Senate Education Committee that the new law “will allow foster youth to have a reliable support system to help them prepare for college despite the disadvantages that they may face. Having financial aid literacy as well as support to get through all of the necessary steps in the process is vital. As a foster youth, not having the typical family background, I don’t have access to the types of resources that families typically provide like being able to live at home, having access to reliable transportation and of course getting financial support from family for educational costs like books, supplies, a computer and living expenses. This lack becomes even more challenging when a crisis like COVID-19 happens.”

The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2021.

JBAY Helps Youth Get Back on Track with Employment Assistance

Before the pandemic hit, Christina was on-track, attending Bakersfield College and working part-time as an aide to Kern County Supervisor Mick Gleason. While she was busy working and studying during the day, her small children were safely in childcare.

As a former foster youth, her journey to adulthood had been a challenging one. She was placed into foster care as a small child, reunified with her father at age 13 and the placed into foster care yet again after becoming pregnant at age 16.

These moves meant multiple placements and multiple schools, including three different high schools. Despite these challenges, Christina was forging a path forward for herself and her young family.

Today, Christina’s future is much less certain. Following the pandemic, the first thing to go was her job. Kern County made budget cuts, which meant she no longer has a way to earn the money that pays for her rent, her food or the many other necessities required by herself and her children.

Christina is not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, young workers are the demographic of employees most negatively impacted by the pandemic. Nationally, one-quarter of workers under age 24 have lost their job in the COVID-19 economic downturn.

John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) is stepping in to help young people like Christina rejoin the workforce. Together with the California Opportunity Youth Network, JBAY is launching a new project that will increase access to employment services for youth who were formerly in foster care, the juvenile probation system or who have experienced homeless.

Historically, these categories of young people have been underserved by the federal workforce training system. In 2018, just 4 percent of the 161,288 youth served by the federal workforce training system were current and former foster youth.

The low level of assistance provided to foster youth is due to policies that exclude them. Specifically, the federal workforce training system requires 75 percent of youth funding to be directed to “out-of-school youth” who have experienced education system disconnection. While well intended, this policy excludes young people like Christina, who face tremendous challenges as former foster youth, but are attending school part-time.

JBAY is advocating to change this policy by seeking a state waiver that will allow local workforce development boards in California to serve youth who were formerly in foster care, the juvenile probation system or who have experienced homeless. As part of the implementation of the federal waiver, JBAY will work with local workforce development boards to implement evidence-based youth employment practices.

These are the kinds of services that will help Christina return to work and restart the progress she has fought so hard to achieve.

JBAY Receives ‘One in a Million Award’ for Moving Youth Out of Poverty

Emmerald Evans

John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) has been recognized with a ‘One in A Million Award’ from Multiplying Good. The award was for JBAY’s work helping foster youth maximize their tax refunds this year, which resulted in more than two thousand foster youth receiving a combined four million dollars in refunds.

“Filing for taxes is always a confusing thing for me when the time comes around,” said Emmerald Evans, a foster youth studying at Sacramento State. “It’s important for me to have help filing taxes to make sure I’m receiving the most suitable refund based on my circumstances and to be sure that I am reporting everything that is needed to be reported.”

If it wasn’t for John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), Emmerald and thousands of other foster youth may have missed out on their refund this year. JBAY provided support and materials to help foster youth like Emmerald complete their tax returns and claim the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) for the first time.

(CalEITC) is the state’s largest anti-poverty program, directing $1 billion to low-income Californians in 2019. Unfortunately, until now, young adults, aged 18 to 24, weren’t eligible, unless they were custodial parents. This exclusion was particularly hard for foster and homeless youth, who don’t have the financial support provided by most families to their young adult children.

That all changed last year, when Governor Newsom made 18- to 24-year-olds fully eligible for CalEITC for the 2020 tax year.

JBAY responded to this opportunity by launching the Cash Back for Transition-Age Youth Pledge to help foster and homeless youth take full advantage of this new tax credit. The program educates youth about the availability of the CalEITC. It also encourages youth service providers to conduct activities to increase rates of tax filing, including watching a training conducted by JBAY, distributing social media materials developed by JBAY, planning a tax-filing event, and several more.

JBAY worked with 30 organizations, reaching 2,326 homeless and foster youth by the tax deadline of July 15. This will result in an estimated $4 million in the pockets of transition-age youth in California.

“It’s been an extremely challenging year, especially with so many student jobs disappearing,” said Emmerald. “The tax credit couldn’t have come at a better time. I was able to use my refund to pay off some debts, which has been a huge relief for me.”

couple holding hands

Unintended Pregnancy is Three Times Higher for Foster Youth; JBAY is Changing That

couple holding hands under table

Sexuality can be one of the most uncomfortable topics for parents to discuss with their teenage children. Now imagine being a foster parent of a teen, building a relationship, helping them succeed in school, and addressing the trauma they have experienced. Where does the topic of reproductive health and sex fall into that list?

Sadly, for most foster youth the answer is nowhere; leaving them without important information to be healthy and safe.

A study of foster youth in California found this lack of information and communication hurts youth in foster care: they were twice as likely to use contraception “none of the time” during sexual intercourse, and three times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than youth who were not in foster care.

These outcomes have serious implications for youth. That’s why John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) continues to work on multiple fronts to improve the sexual and reproductive health of youth in foster care.

First, JBAY advocated for landmark legislation in 2017 that requires counties to ensure all foster youth receive comprehensive sexual health education in middle and high school. It also requires social workers to ensure foster youth are informed of their reproductive and sexual health rights, and to help youth access confidential health care services.

Since the passage of the law, JBAY has remained committed to its implementation. The JBAY team created age-appropriate fact sheets for social workers to use. They also developed a curriculum to train foster parents. Then they issued a study of the status of implementation in Bay Area counties.

JBAY is currently training 11 group homes in six counties on how to improve their reproductive and sexual health policies and practices. Together, these group homes serve 21 percent of all youth placed in group homes in California. With better policies and practices, these organizations can play a vital role in the health and well-being of our state’s foster youth.

JBAY can’t pass a law making it easy or comfortable to talk to teens about sex. But we’re doing our best to ensure they have the information they need to be healthy and safe.

Foster Youth Outpace Peers in College Aid Applications for First Time

Thanks to a campaign by John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), foster youth are accessing millions of additional dollars for college. In fact, JBAY’s FAFSA Challenge has been so successful that foster youth are now applying for college aid at far higher levels than their peers, after years of lagging behind them. “My dream is […]

JBAY’s Advocacy Featured in Multiple Media Outlets

JBAY’s advocacy was featured in numerous media outlets in the build-up to the passage of the state budget, effective July 1st.

JBAY Youth Advocate Emmerald Evans was featured in a KTVU news story on the importance of supporting foster youth during COVID-19. “Campuses have been closed. Students have to go home, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that foster youth have a home to go to,” she said.

The story also featured Assembly Member Phil Ting, who championed a key provision for foster youth in the state budget to prevent homelessness in high cost areas of the state, including San Francisco.

“We want to keep foster youth on a path to success. Otherwise, they become a permanent part of our caseload,” said Ting. “This is smart fiscally and it’s the right thing to do.”

In the San Jose Mercury News Executive Director Amy Lemley explained the challenges facing foster youth and the importance of allowing youth to voluntarily remain in extended foster care during COVID-19, “If their minimum needs can be covered, they can keep a leg up in higher education and can hold on until the economy returns,” Lemley said. “The odds are already stacked against them to graduate from high school and higher education, and yet they’re doing it.”

Additional coverage of JBAY’s advocacy was included in EdSource, the Chronicle for Social Change, WFMZ News, World and LA Progressive. For a full list of JBAY in the media, follow this link.

college graduates throw their hats in the air

JBAY Supports New Bill to Help Homeless Students Stay in College

Nineteen percent of students at California community colleges experience homelessness, as do eleven percent of California State University students. The homeless crisis is even worse for students who are African American, Native American, LGBTQ, or foster youth. Assembly Bill 2416, introduced by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, will require colleges to consider homelessness as an extenuating circumstance when evaluating appeals for the loss of financial aid.

On May 13, Tisha Ortiz, a former foster youth speaking on behalf of John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), spoke to the Assembly Committee on Higher Education about her experiences as a student facing homelessness:

Thank you for this opportunity to share my experience with you today. I have direct experience with the toll that being homeless can take on someone’s education. As a child, my family situation was unstable. I entered foster care at 4 years old, reunited with my family at 8 and then reentered foster care at 12, where I remained until I emancipated at 18 and was on my own.

After high school, I enrolled at Cal State East Bay, but without family support I became homeless within a year of attending school. I bounced around to a bunch of different living situations, all the while, attending classes and trying to keep up with schoolwork.

Eventually, I was accepted into a transitional housing program and my grades improved. I transitioned into the dorms and then my own apartment, but my income was not enough to afford the apartment and I again found myself homeless and had to withdraw from classes. I moved around from motel to motel, couch surfed with friends, and even ended up in a shelter for a period of time.

I was eventually able to find stable housing but when I tried to re-enroll at Cal State East Bay, I was told that I couldn’t get financial aid because of satisfactory academic progress requirements. Although my GPA was 2.7, the fact that I had withdrawn from classes when I became homeless disqualified me from financial aid. There is no way that I can afford to attend school without financial aid. The appeals process has been very challenging and so I wasn’t able to enroll for this semester. I hope to return next year as I have just 24 units left to complete my bachelor’s degree.

AB 2416 will make it easier for students like myself who face homelessness to get back on track and remain enrolled and I strongly urge your support.

For more information on AB 2416 and how to support it, visit: https://www.jbaforyouth.org/ab-2416/

JBAY Supports Bill to Help Foster Youth Get Student Aid

Emmerald Evans

Foster youth struggle in higher education. By age 26, just eight percent of former foster youth earn a bachelor’s degree compared to 46 percent of the same-age population of young adults. One of the main stumbling blocks for foster youth applying to college is failure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

A new bill in the California Senate aims to tackle this problem. Senate Bill 860, introduced by Senator Jim Beall, would require foster youth to receive assistance completing their FAFSA. 

Emmerald Evans, a Youth Advocate for John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), gave testimony to the Senate Education Committee in support of SB 860, on May 12.

Good afternoon Chairs and members of the committee and thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my experience with you.

My name is Emmerald Evans. I am 21 years old and currently a student at Sacramento State. I was raised in foster care from the age of five until I aged out at age 21. Throughout my foster care experience I attended about a dozen schools, which was challenging for me because my schooling was inconsistent. The content of the curriculum and teaching styles often varied and it was very hard to adjust when forced to move schools in the middle of the term. Moving this much also made it harder for me to develop consistent relationships, both with adult supporters and my peers.

As I concluded my high school years, I was not fully aware of my college opportunities and how to prepare for college, including applying for admission, taking tests like SATs and ACTs and crucially, applying for financial aid. Some barriers that I faced when applying for financial aid included not understanding terminology, not knowing how to access the documents that I needed to apply, and not even understanding the full scope of what financial aid was or its importance.

I was fortunate in that I was extremely self-motivated and was able to research a lot of these questions on my own, but I have seen many of my peers in foster care not have the capacity to pursue getting the necessary information to successfully complete the FAFSA.

This bill is very important because it will allow foster youth to have a reliable support system to help them prepare for college despite the disadvantages that they may face. Having financial aid literacy as well as support to get through all of the necessary steps in the process is vital. As a foster youth, not having the typical family background, I don’t have access to the types of resources that families typically provide like being able to live at home, having access to reliable transportation and of course getting financial support from family for educational costs like books, supplies, a computer and living expenses. This lack becomes even more challenging when a crisis like COVID-19 happens.

By designating the Foster Youth Services Coordinating Programs as the central entity to ensure foster youth have support with this process, this bill will have a significant impact on many foster youth and their ability to be successful in college.

 For more information on SB 860 and how to support it, see https://www.jbaforyouth.org/sb860/