I emancipated out of the foster care system back in 2009, before AB 12 was passed in California. As a teenager, I feared high school graduation. Not because I wasn’t going to graduate, but because I knew that shortly after graduation I would emancipate out of foster care. Although the foster care system had provided me with little stability for the past 11 years, at least I knew that I would have food on the table and a roof over my head. After graduation that would be all gone.
By 14, I have heard plenty of horror stories, through the grapevines of “did you know and have you heard,” about recently emancipated foster youth who ended up homeless or in prison. The first few stories shocked me but after awhile I became numb to the stories and began accepting that was the way that things were and that was the way things were going to stay. It was crystal clear to me that if I didn’t have a plan for my emancipation I too would eventually become one of those “usual” stories about former foster youth.
My options were limited. The first was college. The second was a county sponsored independent living transitional living programs that lasted a year or so and had requirements. Not everyone got into an independent living program. And the third was to work full time at a minimum wage job and live paycheck to paycheck. As far as I knew, those were the only options I had if I didn’t want to become homeless. So my plan was college. I would attend a four-year university— I was going to attempt to do what only 2% of former foster youth before were successful at doing.
But even with that plan in place, there were holes that I wasn’t sure how to fill. Where was I going to sleep between June and August before school started? And if I chose to live on campus, what was I going to do for the month that the dorms closed? Would I have no place to live? I knew my plan of going to college was the best option but I feared that at some point in my life, in spite of doing everything “right,” I could still face homelessness. At times this made me feel hopeless and I cried myself asleep.
Afraid, of becoming an adult, I worked every summer to save for my future. I also attended my county’s Independent Living Program. When I was 17, one of the classes mentioned that there was a board composed of current and former foster youth that paid a stipend of $20 per meeting. I figured that $20 and free pizza was worth an hour or two of my time. At that first meeting, the topic of discussion was The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, a federal law which had just recently passed. The discussion focused on one of the provisions of the law, which provides states with federal Title IV-E reimbursement for costs associated with supports for young people to remain in foster care up to age 21. Hearing that, the cynical part of me that had believed that nothing was ever going to change began to dissipate and my fears began to die. However, that quickly changed a few minutes later when the conversation began to focus on how get “the bill,”AB 12, passed in the California legislature.
The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 allowed states to extend foster care to age 21 and continue to receive federal funds for foster care maintenance payments to eligible foster youth but it was optional and the states had to pay for a portion of the cost. I didn’t need anyone to explain the importance of pushing to get this bill passed or how it impact the future of foster youth in California. I knew that this bill could alleviate stress for foster youth, providing a support system for them so that they could succeed and have a future. However, I did need someone to explain to me that it was unlikely that it would pass in time for me to benefit from it. Even though I knew that it was highly unlikely for me to personally benefit from the passing of AB 12, I still worked to get the bill passed, leading discussions and learning talking points to help with lobbying efforts. In 2009, I left for college and I passed on the torch for that fight to my peers were staying in the area. A year later, during my second year in college, I checked up on AB 12, and it was signed into law—and for the first time in my life the foster care system brought tears of joy to my eyes.
Now, as a part of Advokids’ team, I got the chance to stand in front of current foster youth and not only tell them about their rights in foster care but also tell them about the AB 12 benefits and how they can plan for their future with the resources they have available to them. I explained that as long as nonminor foster youth are doing one of the following things (Completing high school or an equivalent program, Enrolling in college, community college or vocational education program, employed at least 80 hours a month, or are participating in a program/activity designed to remove barriers to employment), they are eligible for foster care benefits until they turn 21. These benefits include funded housing at the home of a relative, non-related extended family member or legal guardian, licensed or approved foster home,Transitional Housing Program Plus Foster Care (THP+FC), Supervised Independent Living Program (SILP) or a group home, which is would be funded by the state and federal government.
Although I did not directly benefit from the passing of AB12, I believe that AB12 lessens the fears that come along with adulthood and provides resources so that nonminor foster youth can achieve their dreams.
For more info on CA AB-12 click here