Sweeping Foster Care Bill Becomes Law
Legislation to extend benefits for youths in the foster care system from age 18 to 21 was signed today by the Governor.
“California has made a clear statement today: The lives of our foster care kids are important to all of us and we have a moral obligation to help them succeed,’’ said Assemblymember Jim Beall, D-San Jose, who introduced Assembly Bill 12.
“For generations, foster care youth faced being kicked out of their foster homes simply because they had turned 18 or graduated from high school. Without any means of support, they were left to wander the streets for shelter and food. Many had no choice but to return to the parents who had neglected or abused them.
“AB 12 ensures they’ll have a safe place to live and stability until they are 21. It will help clear the way for eligible foster care youths go to college and begin careers that will contribute to our society.
“Many people worked to make this bill a reality – such as joint co-author and former Speaker Karen Bass. Foster care advocates, including country singer Jimmy Wayne, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, and Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, spoke with energy and passion to persuade legislators AB 12 was good policy.’’
AB 12’s sponsors include the John Burton Foundation, the Judicial Council of California, the California Youth Connection, the County Welfare Directors Association of California, the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles, the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the Youth Law Center, and the SEIU State Council.
AB 12 drew renewed praise from the foster care community and also from Gov. Schwarzenegger.
"With up to fifty percent of foster youth becoming homeless after exiting the system, AB 12 is landmark legislation that will save lives,’’ said Sparky Harlan, executive director of the Santa Clara-based Bill Wilson Center, which provides counseling and housing services to homeless and runaway youths.
In a prepared statement, Gov. Schwarzenegger said, “Our foster care youth deserve every opportunity to succeed in life, and extending foster benefits and services through age 21 will help better equip them with the necessary tools.
“AB 12 will ensure our foster youth have access to important resources as they transition into adulthood. I applaud Assemblymembers Bass and Beall for working across the aisle and getting this important legislation passed.”
AB 12 aligns California’s foster care with the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, making the state eligible to obtain federal funding for transitional support for qualifying foster youth and also the state’s Kin-Gap program, which facilitates the adoption of children by their relatives instead of placing them in institutionalized care.
California has about one-sixth of the nation’s 500,000 foster care children. About 4,500 foster care youth “age out’’ of the system every year in California. Studies show they are far more susceptible to a lower rate of educational achievement and higher rates of homelessness, unemployment, unplanned pregnancies, violent crimes, and involvement with the justice system than non-foster care children.
In March, a study analyzing the fiscal impact of AB 12 determined that for every dollar government invests in supporting older youth in foster care, there is a $2.40 return on investment.
AB 12 was introduced in December 2008 by Beall and Speaker emeritus Bass. It passed through the Legislature, receiving widespread bipartisan support.
“Legislators realize these are our kids – they are our responsibility, and they recognized that AB 12 is fiscally sound,’’ Beall said.
The extension of benefits begins Jan. 1, 2012, and will be phased in over three years.