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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.