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Now That We’ve Built It, Will They Come?

December 29, 2011

By Amy Lemley

It’s been years in the making, and the time has finally come: effective January 1, 2012, California will extend foster care to age 19, and if the legislature agrees, to age 21.

The journey began in 2007, when California’s own Senator Barbara Boxer introduced the Foster Care Continuing Opportunities Act which gave states the option of receiving federal funding to extend foster care to age 21. Senator Boxer’s legislation was later folded into the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (PL 110-351), signed by President George W. Bush on October 7, 2008, just days before the collapse of Lehman Brothers and our nation’s entrance into a full-blown financial crisis.

From there, the next step was getting the extension approved in California, where Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Assembly Member Jim Beall introduced Assembly Bill 12, the California Fostering Connections to Success Act.  AB 12 was introduced on the very first day of the two-year legislative session and passed by the legislature on the very last day of the session.  The fact that AB 12 prevailed, despite the record level state budget deficit and looming national recession, is a story for the record books- a true testament to California’s commitment to youth in foster care.

But, the story wasn’t over… From passage of AB 12 came the painstaking development of regulations to implement it.  A small army of county and state administrators, advocates, caregivers, and youth began the thankless task of combing through almost every aspect of foster care, developing policies for AB 12’s extension of care. Despite a tight timeline and ever-looming budget problems, the task has (largely) been accomplished.

So here we are today, the first real day of AB 12 implementation. Somewhere in California, as you read this, there is likely a young person who, without AB 12, would soon be discharged from foster care and confronted with many well-documented challenges, such as homelessness, poverty and incarceration.

Instead, this young person can be deliberating whether or not participate in extended foster care.

But will young adults choose to participate? I think the answer to that question will depend on a number of factors:

  • Culture change: Throughout the AB 12 development process, the concept of partnering with youth as young adults has been emphasized. Will a child welfare system be able to fully embrace this paradigm shift and work in partnership with young adults in extended foster care? We can’t just say that extended foster care is different than foster care for minors; it needs to feel different for the young adults who participate in it. These young adults need to directly see how their preferences are being incorporated into decision-making and know that they have a genuine say in their foster care experience.
  •  Comprehensive training for providers, particularly relative caregivers and foster parents: A full 40 percent of 18 years-olds in foster care are placed with a relative or a foster parent, where they have often developed strong, supportive relationships. If these young adults are to continue to live in these placements, caregivers will require considerable training and ongoing support to understand how to negotiate the new rights and responsibilities of non-minor dependents.
  •  Full implementation of THP-Plus Foster Care: The only public program in California with a track record of providing affordable housing and supportive services to non-minor dependents is THP-Plus. Since 2006, over 9,000 young adults in 51 counties have been served by 60 THP-Plus providers. On balance, these youth have made measurable improvement in the areas of education and employment, despite considerable challenges. AB 12 created THP-Plus Foster Care, modeled closely after THP-Plus, which will offer both independence and intensive support. It is the only placement option to offer this unique combination and will be an essential offering for the 19% of 18 year-olds living in group homes, most of whom who will be required to move into a different setting due to provisions in AB 12 limiting group home participation.
  •  Easily accessible re-entry provision: An important aspect of AB 12 is the re-entry provision, which ensures that youth who exit foster care have the opportunity to change their mind and re-enter. The success of this provision will be its accessibility to young adults. The process should recognize the urgency of the situation and respond quickly to ensure that the young adult seeking re-entry is safely housed. If excessive administrative hurdles are required, we will see low rates of utilization, not because young adults do not require the assistance, but because it is administratively burdensome.
  •  Responsible implementation of child welfare “Realignment”:  At first glance, the connection between child welfare realignment and implementation of extended foster care may not be clear. However, the two policies are closely linked. Under child welfare realignment, counties have been legislatively delegated both the funding and the responsibility for administering child welfare functions, including foster care. If counties do not receive adequate funding to implement these functions, it creates a climate of trade-offs. What’re more important: permanence for younger children or extended foster care for young adults? Counties will require adequate funding and sound fiscal safeguards under realignment to ensure that these tradeoffs don’t occur.
  •  Critical analysis: To advocate for the successful passage of AB 12, much time was spent making the case about the effectiveness of extended foster care. With implementation upon us, the mindset must change. We must now enter a period where we look critically at what is working in extended foster care and what is not. This will require developing a robust evaluation and commitment to regularly collecting input from young adults in extended foster care. With this information, both policies and practices must be revised to ensure extended foster care achieves its intended goals. It may be tempting to avoid this process of critical review, particularly given that the legislature has not authorized the extension to age 21. However, if we are not committed to it, our programs will not reflect the realities of young adults and we will see low uptake rates.

These are just a few of the things that come to mind for me when I think about whether young adults will regard extended foster care as an appealing option. My hope is that when we look back at this policy one year from today, we will see that a upwards of 60% of youth considered this option and decided that yes, extended foster care would give them practical assistance and emotional support. If not, it is our responsibility to ask why and keep working!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2012 6:21 pm

    excellent article!

    • Tracylyn sharrit permalink
      January 9, 2012 5:12 am

      Dear Devvi,

      I agree, I hope more people will read this as a call to action to help our most at risk youth find successful lives.

      Happy new year,


  2. Tracylyn Sharrit permalink
    January 5, 2012 6:53 pm

    Having been a foster child and return to parental care time after time, I felt as if just remaining in foster care may have been better for my outcome as a child. Overcoming many barriers that were placed in front of my sustainability as a grounded youth, I never allow excuses for failure that I do not personally own.
    I feel extended foster care is essential for focused personal growth from teen – to adulthood. Recognizing myself as an adult was delayed.
    I advocate as a past child in foster care to have extended care offered to those over 18 that feel (a foster environment) is in their best interest for good start into being a sustainable adult with set goals and a structure of family standards.
    Thanks for allow me a place to share my thoughts on this very relevant issue

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