Posts

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.”

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.

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.

JBAY Supports Bill to Help Foster Youth Get Student Aid

Emmerald Evans

Foster youth struggle in higher education. By age 26, just eight percent of former foster youth earn a bachelor’s degree compared to 46 percent of the same-age population of young adults. One of the main stumbling blocks for foster youth applying to college is failure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

A new bill in the California Senate aims to tackle this problem. Senate Bill 860, introduced by Senator Jim Beall, would require foster youth to receive assistance completing their FAFSA. 

Emmerald Evans, a Youth Advocate for John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), gave testimony to the Senate Education Committee in support of SB 860, on May 12.

Good afternoon Chairs and members of the committee and thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my experience with you.

My name is Emmerald Evans. I am 21 years old and currently a student at Sacramento State. I was raised in foster care from the age of five until I aged out at age 21. Throughout my foster care experience I attended about a dozen schools, which was challenging for me because my schooling was inconsistent. The content of the curriculum and teaching styles often varied and it was very hard to adjust when forced to move schools in the middle of the term. Moving this much also made it harder for me to develop consistent relationships, both with adult supporters and my peers.

As I concluded my high school years, I was not fully aware of my college opportunities and how to prepare for college, including applying for admission, taking tests like SATs and ACTs and crucially, applying for financial aid. Some barriers that I faced when applying for financial aid included not understanding terminology, not knowing how to access the documents that I needed to apply, and not even understanding the full scope of what financial aid was or its importance.

I was fortunate in that I was extremely self-motivated and was able to research a lot of these questions on my own, but I have seen many of my peers in foster care not have the capacity to pursue getting the necessary information to successfully complete the FAFSA.

This bill is very important because it 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.

By designating the Foster Youth Services Coordinating Programs as the central entity to ensure foster youth have support with this process, this bill will have a significant impact on many foster youth and their ability to be successful in college.

 For more information on SB 860 and how to support it, see https://www.jbaforyouth.org/sb860/