Student in library

New Law Extends Aid for Homeless Students

John Burton with foster youthGovernor Gavin Newsom last night signed legislation that will make California a national leader in supporting college students facing homelessness. Assembly Bill (AB) 2416, sponsored by John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), requires colleges to consider homelessness as an extenuating circumstance when evaluating appeals for the loss of financial aid. 

John Burton, former president of the California State Senate and Chair of JBAY, welcomed the passage of AB 2416: “Taking away a person’s financial aid while they are struggling with homelessness is kicking them when they are down. It’s just not right. Thank you to the California State Legislature and Governor Newsom for keeping the door to higher education open for homeless students.”

California has seen a surge in homelessness among college students. A 2019 study found one in five of the state’s 2.1 million community college students experienced an episode of homelessness over the previous 12 months. A similar report on the 480,000 students attending California State University found that their rate of homelessness was one in ten.

Before this new law, students who became homeless often lost access to financial aid because they did not meet Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). SAP typically requires students to maintain a 2.0 GPA and complete at least two-thirds of attempted courses.

“As a child, my family situation was unstable,” said Tisha Ortiz, speaking on behalf of JBAY to the Assembly Committee on Higher Education. “I entered foster care at four years old, reunited with my family at eight, and then reentered foster care at 12, where I remained until I emancipated at 18 and was on my own.” 

After high school, Ortiz enrolled at Cal State East Bay but became homeless within a year of attending school due to a lack of family support. 

“Although my GPA was 2.7, the fact that I had withdrawn from classes when I became homeless disqualified me from financial aid,” said Ortiz. “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.”

With AB 2416 taking effect on January 1, 2021, California’s homeless students will be able to count on their colleges providing more aid during the crises we face today and in the future.

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.

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.

student sitting on floor

JBAY Helps Secure Housing for Homeless Youth on 30 Campuses

Cody

Students across California are preparing for the start of college, largely from the comfort of their parents’ home, due to the pandemic. Statewide, an estimated 2.4 million college students will receive their education remotely for the fall semester.

But what about students who have no home? They also have no family to offer free rent, free wifi and most importantly, emotional support and encouragement.

That was the case for Cody, a youth advocate at John Burton Advocates for Youth. After overcoming abuse and neglect as a small child, she entered foster care, was adopted then re-entered foster care at age 16 after her adoptive parents abandoned her.

Cody soldiered on, enrolling in Cosumnes River College and determined to make a life for herself.

Unfortunately, landlords aren’t paid in grit and determination, qualities Cody possesses in abundance. Instead, they require cash and after the loss of a job, Cody was homeless.

Last summer, John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) advocated for the passage Assembly Bill 74, which included a $19 million annual state investment to reduce homelessness among college students.

Since then, we’ve stuck with the issue and are proud to report that the funding has been distributed to 30 campuses, including 14 community colleges, seven campuses of the California State University system, and all nine University of California campuses. Young people like Cody no longer have to struggle alone.

JBAY has been involved in each step of the implementation process of AB 74 and will remain involved by providing technical assistance to selected campuses. We don’t consider the job done until it makes a direct, meaningful, and measurable impact on the lives of youth.

The good news is that the AB 74 investment is doing just that.

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 […]

Aja Dunlap

JBAY Wins Budget Victory to Prevent Homelessness in High Cost Counties

When Ajanique Dunlap turned 18 she was counting on moving into a foster care placement developed specifically for older youth in foster care. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. Ajanique found that the transitional housing provider had no apartments open.

“I had to leave my current placement, but I had nowhere to go. I started my first semester at Sacramento State while homeless.”

Thanks to the advocacy of John Burton Advocates for Youth, the 2020-21 state budget includes $4 million to ensure young people like Ajanique don’t face homelessness again. Instead, Ajanique will be eligible for a housing supplement to offset the high cost of housing in California.

The policy change will assist over 1,200 youth annually, ensuring access to housing and supportive services such as case management and counseling, crisis intervention, and assistance with education and employment.

Before this historic investment, waiting lists for transitional housing had reached over 330 youth and, 40% of transitional housing providers reported their waiting lists had grown since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Housing Supplement was championed by Assembly Member Phil Ting. Thank you to Assembly Member Ting, Governor Newsom and a coalition of over 100 organizations for protecting young people like Ajanique, who can now stop worrying about housing stability and turn their attention to college.

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/

Our Advocacy is Keeping the Class of 2020 On Track to Graduate and Transition to College

When the pandemic struck, over 4,000 foster care youth who were high school seniors in California suddenly left their high schools and started remote learning. Most didn’t have a laptop or internet connectivity and many were at the crucial tail end of the college application and financial aid process.  

These foster youth were on their own, without parents to help them navigate the uncertainty or logistics of remote learning, college deadlines and more. Without an immediate response, the graduation and college dreams of the Class of 2020 would have remained just that: dreams, and not a reality.

John Burton Advocates for Youth stepped in to ensure that COVID-19 didn’t undo the years of hard work that foster youth who are high school seniors have put into reaching college. 

First, we mobilized a network of county educators, to ensure that students complete the all-important Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If this form isn’t complete, there is no financial aid and for foster youth, that means no college.  As of May7th, 57% of foster youth have completed the FAFSA, the same rate as the general population of students in California. At the same point in 2019, the completion rate for foster youth was just 45%.

Second, John Burton Advocates for Youth stepped in to advocate to the California Department of Education to make foster youth a priority for the distribution of laptops.  We are making progress, working with the California Office of Surplus to direct thousands of laptop computers to foster youth. 

Youth in foster care are fighters. They have fought hard through abuse, trauma and instability and we’re going to keep fighting alongside them until they reach college and beyond.

JBAY Successfully Advocates for No Aging-Out During COVID-19

COVID-19 has challenged us all in many ways. But imagine if you had just turned 21 years old and were told to leave your home and find a new home, all while trying to protect yourself from the virus? Now imagine doing this all without the assistance of a family.  Could you do it safely?

That’s what many foster youth were facing across California when COVID-19 struck. Under existing law, foster youth would be removed from their foster placements to become completely independent as soon as they turn 21.

John Burton Advocates for Youth recognized that it wasn’t right to make young people exit foster care in the midst of the pandemic. That’s why we, together with a coalition of advocates, asked Governor Newsom to allow young people to remain in foster care until June 30th. 

On April 17th Governor Newsom agreed and provided a lifeline to the 1,200 foster youth who would have otherwise “aged out” in April, May and June. Instead of homelessness and instability, these young people are able to remain safely in their homes and on track educationally. 

JBAY will continue to bolster its advocacy efforts to ensure the most vulnerable youth will not fall through the cracks during these uncertain times.