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Thursday, May 24 marked a day when youth voice was alive at the capitol.
Image by: Amabelle Ocampo
It was the "Annual Shadow a Legislator Day" for foster youth leadership advocacy group, California Youth Connection. Among the excitement of hundreds of elementary school children on a civics field trip of the state capitol, an important announcement was being made by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Daniel Heimpel, a child welfare journalist and CYC Board Member.
They urged support for two bills, AB 2093 and AB 1712, which will affect the future of foster youth across the state.
(Image by: Amabelle Ocampo )
In honor of Foster Care Awareness Month, Skinner's legislation, Assembly Bill 2093 "Foster Youth Higher Education and Support Act," was introduced to provide post secondary education support to foster youth who attend California's public colleges and universities by designating a foster care service coordinator.
The passage of the legislation would help raise the devastatingly low college entry and graduation rates of foster youth.
Consider the statistics, for the 80,000 foster youth in California, less than half will graduate from high school. Only ten percent will pursue a college education. Of those only 2 percent will actually earn a degree.
Still, a second, more urgent bill, AB 1712 authored by Assemblymember Jim Beall echoed through the halls, to the I-5 freeway, to the lives of 2,166 youth turning 19 this year in California.
The problem is that it forces youth out on the streets on their birthday. Foster youth like Julio Quezada, 18 who graduated from Modesto High School last week. His birthday is coming up on December 6.
In January of 2013, he will need to reapply, if AB1712 is not passed. The process is disjointed and with county funds in flux, the likelihood of youths finding themselves homeless is high.
A hearing for AB1712 is set to remedy the funding gap created by Assembly Bill 12, which extends support services to foster youth until age 19, in 2012, then 20 in 2013. The last minute amendment is what pushed out a generation of foster youth who are turning 19 this year out.
Quezada didn't do anything wrong -- his biological mother was only thirteen, when she got pregnant. She was dealing with mental health issues, mixed with drugs, and weaved in and out of jail.
As luck would have it, if only his birthday was a year later, he would not have to leave foster care, then reapply, then try to come back in the system for help.
The lack of safety net for foster youth in transition could make them vulnerable to homelessness, incarceration, or poverty.
"My great grandparents raised me till they died. A social worker placed me in foster care for 3 years. I live in group independent living now. They told me to go to ILP classes. That's when I found CYC. I'm learning to put it all together now. I need some time. I'm afraid. By December, I won't have a place to go." said Quezada.
Despite some tough obstacles, Quezada's stride is moving forward. In the fall, he wants to go to Modesto Community College, transfer to Sacramento or San Jose State to become a social worker then maybe a legislator.