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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 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 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 Transforms Helplessness into Hope

“Because of you, I had the opportunity to make a positive difference in my students’ lives. Because of you, many are safe with a roof over their heads.”

This is what we heard recently from Rosemary Touyanou at Santiago Canyon College in Orange, California. Rosemary contacted John Burton Advocates for Youth to express her thanks for creating the California College Pathways Rapid Response Program. 

The California College Pathways Rapid Response Program was established in May to address the growing needs of college foster youth impacted by COVID-19 by providing access to flexible resources for housing, food, technology access, transportation, health care, and other emergency needs. It is a partnership between John Burton Advocates for Youth and Together We Rise, funded by a consortium of foundations and individual contributors. Since May, 445 youth have been assisted. 

According to Rosemary, the help has been a lifeline for the foster youth who are facing the pandemic without the support of an extended family. 

“One of my students was living in an extremely dangerous environment – in a barn, surrounded by drug dealers and drug users. Another student was about to be evicted with her children. Thanks to the California College Pathways Rapid Response Program, these young people are now safe. The young man living in the barn was removed from that environment and is now attending Cal State University Fullerton.

Rosemary explained that COVID has hit home for her students, “One of my students was infected with COVID. She had just started her new job so she had no vacation and no sick time to use during the time she was fighting to stay alive. Then two days after she returned to work, she received the news that her four year old now had COVID. She had to take another 15 days off work. Rent was due, no food, and it seemed that things were getting worse and worse.”

This student received assistance from the California College Pathways Rapid Response Program. According to Rosemary, “I’m happy to report that both she and her daughter are doing well.” 

Before the California College Pathways Rapid Response Program, Rosemary often felt helpless and ended the day with worries and stress. “I felt helpless when one of the students I serve, called and told me what they were facing.” However, this was changed around once the program was developed. “Words cannot express my gratitude at all the assistance my students have received.” 

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

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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.

Facing COVID-19 as a Foster Youth is ‘Formidable’ says Chronicle

A recent San Francisco Chronicle article featured John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) efforts to ensure at-risk youth have the resources needed during and after COVID-19. Here’s just part of the story:

As schools closed and roommates fled to childhood homes, many foster youth had nowhere to go. Even if they find a couch to sleep on, they may lack computers or internet access to study for final exams.

Social workers fear that when the economy rebounds, these young adults will stumble. Many won’t finish college and may be turned away from jobs.

“A situation that might be complex but manageable for a normal kid becomes overwhelming for someone coming out of the foster system,” said Debbie Raucher, director of education at John Burton Advocates for Youth, a San Francisco nonprofit that helps former foster children.

At JBAY, we know it’s daunting to not have a family to depend on during such a crisis. Many foster youth are not prepared for such changes in the world.  Our goal is to help them navigate this new world moving forward.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.