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.

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

Bar chart: growth in FAFSA completion

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 to get a psychology degree and become a counselor,” says Toby Herrera, a graduating senior at Palmdale High School in LA County. When a foster care liaison in Toby’s school district told him to identify as a foster youth on his FAFSA, he gained access to many additional resources, such as the Chaffee grant that provides up to $5,000 per year. “Discovering all the resources available to foster youth through FAFSA has brought my dream closer to reality for me.”

While 85% of foster youth say they aspire to go to college, fewer than 8% achieve a bachelor’s degree by age 26, compared with 46% of the general population. The FAFSA Challenge helps foster youth overcome one of the biggest barriers to their college dreams. Studies have shown that 90% of high school seniors who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) go on to enroll in college within 12 months, compared to just 45% of high school seniors who do not complete the application.

In 2017-2018, the first year of the challenge, just 45% of eligible foster youth submitted their FAFSA. The completion rate has grown to 64.5% for 2019-2020, exceeding the 56.6% rate for all California high school seniors.

There were big improvements all across the state; for example, Los Angeles County, where Toby Herrera goes to school, has more than doubled its rate in just three years. This year, 613 out of 901 foster youth (68%) in LA County completed FAFSA, compared to 33% two years ago.

As a result of the success of the FAFSA challenge, JBAY is now advocating for legislation that would institutionalize this proven approach. California Senate Bill 860, authored by Senator Jim Beall, would improve FAFSA completion rates among foster youth. SB 860 was passed unanimously by the Senate in June, and is now being considered by the State Assembly.

 For more information, including which counties did best, read the FAFSA Challenge 2020 press release or visit the FAFSA Challenge page.

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.