Prenatal Care for Foster Youth Moves A Step Closer

“I went to 13 high schools and never received the health classes and information I needed to make informed choices around birth control,” says Elizabeth Clews, a JBAY Youth Advocate. “I became pregnant when I was in extended foster care. If my case manager or high schools had made sure I received sexual health education then I don’t believe I would have had children at the time I did.”

Stories like Elizabeth’s illustrate why JBAY is sponsoring Assembly Bill 366, “Healthy Futures for Foster Youth”, which would ensure access to better sexual health education and care for California foster youth. AB 366, introduced by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, passed out of the Assembly Human Services Committee today, April 7, with unanimous bipartisan support, along with AB 413: “Addressing Foster Youth Homelessness”.

Young people in foster care in California have a history of unfair barriers to accessing the sexual health education and services available to other youth. A 2016 study of youth in California’s foster care system found that, by age 19, about half the women reported having been pregnant at least once, more than twice the rate in the general population; yet, only a third described these pregnancies as planned. Of young women in care at age 17, one in five reported never having received prenatal care. In addition, 47% of female foster youth experienced a stillbirth or miscarriage, compared to 35% who experienced a live birth. Foster youth also reported disproportionately higher rates of sexually transmitted infection and are at heightened risk for intimate partner violence and sexual exploitation.

In response to these alarming findings, California has taken significant strides toward providing comprehensive sexual health education and access to care for foster youth. The new support includes an infant supplement paid to foster youth once they have a child.

Although these efforts were a tremendous first step, their implementation has shown a need for further changes. AB 366 improvements include extending the infant supplement three months prior to the expected delivery date of the child. This would provide expectant mothers with the support they need to prepare for their new baby.

“I didn’t find out I was pregnant until I was 32 weeks pregnant,” recalls Elizabeth Clews. “That meant that in just a few weeks I had to change my whole life plans. I was focusing on my education and didn’t yet have a job. I didn’t have the money and income to take care of myself and a child. It was only after I brought him home that I started to acquire basic purchases like a crib and bottles and diapers. If they had provided some extra support before birth, I would have been so much better prepared.”

For more information on Assembly Bill 366 and how to support it, visit: https://www.jbaforyouth.org/ab-366/

JBAY Helps Build a Bridge to Stable Housing

“I was starting college at Sacramento State and needed help identifying a safe, reasonable housing placement option that wasn’t going to fall apart. Housing navigation could have helped me with this. While I waited for transitional housing to become available for two months, I was homeless. I failed my summer courses, and my mental health was bad.” 

Ajanique Dunlap was sharing her story of homelessness while in foster care with the Assembly Committee on Housing & Community Development on March 15. A Youth Advocate for John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), Ajanique was speaking in support of Assembly Bill 413: “Addressing Foster Youth Homelessness”. 

AB 413, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-District 19), would establish permanent funding for programs helping current and former foster youth to secure stable housing, while also providing training for social workers to help foster youth navigate the housing system. The proposed law would also provide a housing supplement for foster youth in counties with the highest rental costs. AB 413 is sponsored by JBAY and supported by 120 other organizations.

“California has taken great strides to address the alarming rates of homelessness experienced by foster youth,” Simone Tureck Lee, JBAY’s director of housing and health, told the hearing. “However, there is still work to do. Nearly one in five youth experience homelessness while in foster care between ages 19 and 21, and one in four experience homelessness after transitioning out of care between 21 and 23.”

COVID-19 has only worsened the problem for foster youth, highlighting the need for long-term housing solutions. According to a survey last July, 79% of current foster youth age 18-21 who were working at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis either lost their jobs or experienced a reduction in hours. 

Ajanique was fortunate to get into a transitional housing program right when COVID hit. “When I was laid off due to COVID from my campus job, the program was really supportive—they waived my portion of the rent, and they also helped me apply for unemployment insurance.”

As she told the committee, passing AB 413 into law would help provide foster youth with a safe route to a more stable future: “I’m not going to need help forever, but right now the assistance I receive is a very important and critical bridge to me becoming independent.”

The Assembly committee was very receptive to Ajanique’s message. AB413 was passed out of committee unanimously with a bipartisan vote of 8-0. 

For more information on Assembly Bill 413 and how to support it, visit: https://www.jbaforyouth.org/ab413.

JBAY Featured on KQED to Discuss Universal Basic Income for Foster Youth

Youth aging out of the foster care system in California would receive a universal basic income, UBI, of  $1,000 a month for three years, under legislation proposed by newly-elected state Senator David Cortese (D). John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) executive director Amy Lemley and Senator Cortese discussed the proposal, SB 739, and the challenges facing foster youth during COVID recently, on KQED’s Forum.

UBI is an unconditional, periodic cash payment that a government makes to everyone with no strings attached. It gained national attention in 2019, when Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs piloted it by providing 125 randomly selected people $500 per month for three years.

Now Senator Cortese is proposing the approach for former foster youth. He is basing his proposal on a UBI program for former foster youth in Santa Clara County, which he initiated in 2020 while serving as a county supervisor before his election to the state Senate last November. 

“The idea is not to be too prescriptive,” said Cortese. “It’s not Big Brother saying we know what’s best for you. It’s about here’s some basic, fundamental support, since you don’t have family support. Your family is the county, get out there and do your best with it.” 

JBAY executive director Amy Lemley agreed with the Senator. “At times we’ve spent too much time talking about how foster youth are different and not enough time talking about how they need the same types of support that all young people need when they become adults,” Lemley told KQED. 

“We know most families are providing some kind of support to their adult children, more adult children are living with their families, and they’re getting regular economic support. So foster youth are really no different; we want to give them the same kind of support to have a healthy young adulthood.”  

“Foster youth have always faced a steep climb and the climb got a lot steeper with COVID,” added Lemley. “They’re being disproportionately impacted in terms of housing, employment, their connection with school. So we really need to step back and think about this next phase of their development and give them the same kinds of support that other young adults receive from their extended family.”

JBAY is working with Senator Cortese to help move this proposal through the legislature into law. The KQED Forum interviews with Amy Lemley and Senator Cortese are now available online.

JBAY Testifies at Assembly Hearing to Ensure Student Basic Needs Are Met

Here’s a quick student quiz. Answer A or B:

A. Go to the food bank so that your family can eat tonight.

B. Take the classes that mean by 2025 you will no longer need to go to food banks.

You can only choose one and you have to decide now.

That’s the kind of choice that tens of thousands of California college students make every day. John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) believes there is a clear answer to that painful dilemma: stop asking students to choose between their education and their basic needs.

That’s why JBAY testified at a California State Assembly Budget Subcommittee meeting on February 1, advocating for long-term funding for student basic needs centers. These centers are centralized service centers on campus where students can receive assistance with their “basic needs” such as food, housing, clothing, assistance with child care and transportation.

Students who have spent time in foster care are twice as likely as other students to experience homelessness and food insecurity. For them, campus basic needs centers provide a lifeline. This point was made by JBAY Youth Advocate Christina Torrez.

“I spent my childhood in and out of the foster care system and don’t have the same access to family support that many other students have to fall back on when challenges arise,” Christina told the hearing.

“During my time in college, I have struggled with not only homelessness but having enough money for food, buying diapers, and paying for my children’s medication. To get food, I would have to go to food pantries and would take several buses to get there. As a student, I believe that having a dedicated source of on-going funding to ensure that every campus can support students like me with accessing basic things like food, housing, diapers, and transportation is necessary to make sure that all students have an equal chance to go to college.”

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, Chair of Budget Subcommittee, ended the hearing by saying: “We hear you loud and clear, and many of these issues related to basic needs will be addressed in the coming weeks and months.”

JBAY will be working to ensure that students who have experienced foster care or homelessness continue to be heard by our legislators in Sacramento.

Ten Months into the Pandemic, Congress Provides Relief for Older Youth in Foster Care

The new year brought good news for foster youth. On December 27, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriation Act which included important pandemic relief for older youth in foster care.

John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) advocated for this important funding as part of a large national coalition led by Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center.

The appropriations bill included $400 million in one-time funding for older youth in foster care. Of that total, California is expected to receive approximately $44 million.

JBAY is developing recommendations for elected officials about how California can best spend the newly available funding, together with fellow advocates from across the state. JBAY’s top priority is that the funding go directly to youth within 45 days, who we know are struggling with employment and housing during the pandemic.

According to JBAY Executive Director Amy Lemley, many foster youth are hanging on by a thread. “We’re in the tenth month of the pandemic. During this time, youth have done everything in their power stay afloat, going into debt and resorting to increasingly desperate measures,” said Lemley. “The effect of the pandemic is cumulative; we need to get this financial relief to young people as soon as possible.”

JBAY is also recommending that the funding is used to help young people who are on the wait list for the Chafee Education and Training Voucher (ETV), which provides up to $5,000 to current and former foster youth enrolled in post-secondary education, including career and technical education. There are currently over 1,600 foster youth who qualify but do not receive the Chafee ETV due to inadequate funds. The newly available funding would ensure these young people are able to stay enrolled in college.

Finally, JBAY is advocating that the funding helps the approximately 5,000 youth who will exit foster care in January 2021. The California State Legislature authorized youth to remain in foster care after age 21 until June 30, 2021 and Governor Newsom has proposed extending that date to January 2022. With the newly available federal funding, California can ensure these young people make a safe, supported transition during what will likely be a fragile, recovering economy and housing market.

JBAY to Back Governor Newsom’s Vision for Foster Care

Governor Newsom released his proposed budget last week and it included two important proposals for older youth in foster care.

First, he included a $20 million investment in higher education for foster youth that will allow all foster youth enrolled in post-secondary education to receive a Cal Grant of $6,000. Currently, foster youth enrolled in community college are eligible for a grant of $1,646, and while extremely helpful, it leaves them without adequate funding for housing and food. Costs such as these are commonly paid by parents, either directly or indirectly because the student lives at home.

“With this proposal, Governor Newsom is putting into place a critical piece of the puzzle to make college affordable and accessible for every foster youth,” according to Amy Lemley, JBAY Executive Director.

The second key investment proposed by Governor Newsom is to allow youth who turn age 21 to voluntarily remain in foster care until December 31, 2021. Currently, youth who turn 21 can remain in foster care until June 30, 2021. JBAY worked closely with the Newsom Administration on this policy.

“We are delighted that the Governor is proposing additional time to protect and assist foster youth in California,” said Lemley. “It shows the Administration understands the unique circumstances foster youth are facing during the pandemic.”

While both proposals are exciting, they are far from a done deal. With the Governor’s budget proposal released, the California State Legislature will now begin its budget deliberations and the process will culminate in a budget adopted and signed by July 1.

JBAY will be involved each step of the way, working with policy makers, public officials and young people to make sure the needs of youth who have been in foster care or homeless are front and center.

A Decade of Success

“California used to give up on kids in foster care, but we changed that by extending care from 18 to 21,” says John Burton, the former state senator who chairs John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY). “That one piece of legislation has transformed the lives of tens of thousands of young people.”

JBAY was a leader in the advocacy for the passage of this historic legislation, which went into effect on January 1, 2011. In the decade since then, more than 40,000 youth have participated in extended foster care in California. In addition, 22 other states have followed California’s lead by adopting this policy.

“When foster youth had to leave care at 18, they usually had little preparation or support for life after high school,” says Amy Lemley, executive director of JBAY. “As a consequence, former foster youth had low levels of college enrollment and high levels of homelessness. But over the past decade we have seen major improvements in college enrollment and completion by foster youth, as well as a significant reduction in homelessness among transition age foster youth.”

Extending foster care to 21 was just the beginning though. Since then, JBAY has sponsored more than 30 new laws aimed at helping foster youth after the age of 18, including increased access to college aid and new programs to prevent homelessness. 

“Before 2010, the foster care system had little experience or guidance on how to help young people who were navigating living independently, working full-time or attending post-secondary education,“ Lemley notes. “JBAY has spent the last decade working to build those systems in concert with state agencies, policy makers, and direct service providers.”

Extensive research over the past decade has shown that young people who remain in foster care to age 21 are faring far better than they would have without extended care. Yet they are still not doing as well as their peers who were never in foster care, and COVID has only deepened their challenges.

But on this anniversary, Amy Lemley is focusing on the positive: “As advocates we tend to focus on the urgent problems we face now and the steep path we still have to climb. But looking back over the past decade, we can see that we made substantial, long-term improvements to the foster care system. And those advances have helped tens of thousands of young people, the youth entrusted to the care of our state, to transform their own prospects and outcomes. It’s been, quite literally, life changing.”

Resilience: Helping Young People Survive 2020

Resiliency has been the buzz word for 2020. It has been a year of challenges and adversity for everyone. There is confusion. There is fear. Yet, we do our best to overcome the hardships.

As difficult as the pandemic has been for all of us, children and youth who are homeless or in foster care face these same fears, confusion, and more every dayeven before 2020. This year it was even more difficult:

  • Mass layoffsespecially in retail jobs these young people rely onhave left them without any income.
  • College closures left them with nowhere to live. Even after colleges reopened online, campus housing often remained closed.
  • Schools that were also a source of food and support closed. When they opened virtually, most foster and homeless youths had no access to the internet, let alone the technology needed to succeed.

They try to stay resilient in a world that has almost forgotten them. But it’s been so hard.

John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) did not forget them. Instead of slowing down or even closing temporarily, we swiftly pivoted to help at-risk youth face the challenges in these uncertain times. And we continued our usual busy schedule of advocacy, training, and support.

Here are some of the ways we supported homeless and foster youth in 2020:

Emergency Support from JBAY

As soon as the pandemic hit in March, JBAY mobilized to raise more than $400,000 to purchase around 3,000 laptops for foster youth, who would have otherwise dropped out of college when distance learning was the only option. JBAY’s response was praised by Governor Newsom in a press conference about helping foster youth during the pandemic.

Then in May, we established an emergency response fund providing critically needed assistance to more than 500 foster youth attending college to support them with essential housing, food, and transportation needs.

Emergency Action with the Governor

Working with Governor Newsom, we helped foster youth who would age out of foster care at 21 and lose their housing and support during the pandemic. An Emergency Order and $32 million investment protected these youth, allowing them to remain in foster care until June 30, 2021. California was the first state in the nation to take this action and the federal government followed suit shortly after, issuing policy guidance to states.

New Legislation

When the legislature in Sacramento sharply reduced the number of bills it would consider this year, JBAY continued to successfully fight for better laws to protect foster and homeless youth.

In September, Governor Newsom signed two JBAY sponsored bills into law:

  • Senate Bill 860: Improving college access for foster youthincreases participation in college among foster youth by requiring state-funded agencies to assist foster youth in completing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This builds on JBAY’s California FAFSA Campaign, which increased college aid applications by foster youth from 45% in 2017 to 64% in 2020.
  • Assembly Bill 2416: Maintaining financial aid for foster youth and other vulnerable college students who become homelessrequires colleges to consider homelessness as an extenuating circumstance when students appeal the loss of financial aid.

While the California legislature was working to make deep cuts to its 2020-21 budget, we advocated to keep these at-risk youth safe. Not only were there no budget cuts to any essential programs, but we secured an increase in support to foster youth totaling $60 million this year.  

“It’s been a trying year for everyone,” says Amy Lemley, executive director of JBAY. “But it’s so much harder without a family and no resources to draw upon in an emergency. We are proud that JBAY has made such a difference in thousands of lives, despite the hardest year I’ve ever known. With the support of donors, legislators and front-line workers, we will ensure that at-risk youth will not only survive 2020 but thrive in 2021 and beyond. That’s what resilience should mean.”

JBAY Gears Up for Ambitious and Challenging Year of Policy Change

It’s Thanksgiving week, but at John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), we are already busy thinking about the New Year, when the California State Legislature will return and we can get back to the important work of improving policies for youth who have been homeless or in foster care. In 2021, we’ll be focusing on our three main issues: housing, education and health.

In housing, we’ll be fighting to maintain funding for youth who become homeless after exiting foster care by sustaining the Transitional Housing Program. The program is currently scheduled to end in December 2021, despite its effectiveness and the tremendous need for it: a recent study of former foster youth in California found that over a thousand youth are homeless and waiting for housing.

In education, JBAY will be focused on ensuring the most vulnerable young adults succeed in higher education, which is a critical path to long-term economic security. First, we are proposing to expand access to NextUp, a student support program at 45 community colleges. The program is highly effective, but its reach is limited to a narrow subset of foster youth. We’ll work to modify the eligibility to make an estimated 1,000 additional young people able to receive the support they need.

Also in education, JBAY will assist the tens of thousands of college students struggling with homelessness and food insecurity by advocating for the creation of basic needs centers across the state. These “one-stop-shops” offer students food, housing referrals, help with financial aid and more. The data show that helping students with these traditionally non-academic needs is critical if we want them to maintain enrollment and graduate.

Finally, in health, we will work to ensure youth in foster care have access to reproductive and sexual health services.

Pressing for these kinds of changes is never easy and it certainly won’t be in 2021, with the uncertainty of the pandemic and the related economic impact on the state budget. But we know that young people need us more than ever. Unlike most youth and young adults, those who have been homeless or in foster care don’t have the benefit of parents or an extended family to assist them during this challenging time. Thank you to JBAY supporters who make this work possible. Next stop: Sacramento!

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.