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Foster Care Extension Saves Youth During COVID

“I was in panic mode,” says Mariah about the prospect of aging out of foster care during the COVID-19 pandemic and recession. “I was about to turn 21, with a one-and-a-half-year-old son in a new home, and I was barely getting on my feet and then COVID hit and I was unemployed.”

About 300 foster youth turn 21 every month in California. It can be a hard transition at the best of times, as they stop receiving housing aid and other support services. During COVID, with college dorms closing, unemployment surging, and no family to turn to, it could be overwhelming and even dangerous for many foster youth

By the time Mariah turned 21 on June 18, she had found a new job but it was in a toxic workplace. It also meant she could not continue in college while looking after her son, Dylan. 

“Then two weeks after my birthday, my social worker told me I hadn’t aged out because they had extended care until next year because of COVID,” she recalls. “I was in tears.”

John Burton Advocates for Youth pressed for a suspension of ‘aging out’ of foster care as soon as shelter-in-place orders were issued in California. Governor Newsom quickly responded by suspending aging out through June 30, 2021. But it took more advocacy to get an additional $29 million in the state’s 2020-21 budget agreement to ensure that no foster youth would age out of foster care before July 1, 2021.

“The money that I get for Dylan and me is a huge help,” says Mariah.” But on top of that I also have my social worker, who I have had since turning 18. She has been more than amazing; she’s really like a rock for me. She helped me get into school and get college aid. And she connected me with mental health and other services after I moved from Santa Clara to Modesto.” 

Mariah is putting the extended support to good use. “I’ve started law school so that I can be a paralegal,” she says. “Because the classes are all online, I can stay in school while looking after Dylan. Now I will be in a much better position when I age out next year.”

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.

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.

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.