The Youth at the Crossroads Conference highlighted the mission and significance of new law AB12, The California Fostering Connections to Success Act, which extends the emancipation age of those in foster care to age 21. Child Welfare and Workforce agencies throughout California met to honestly evaluate current practices and uncover ways to move forward with a new outlook on effectively serving foster youth, especially that of older youth.
The two-day conference, held May 21st and 22nd in Los Angeles, was sponsored by the City and County of Los Angeles Workforce Investment Boards, the San Diego Workforce Partnership, the Riverside County Workforce Investment Board, the City of Los Angeles Community Development Department and New Ways to Work. The primary message was encouraging departments and agencies to work together and utilize each other’s services to better assist those youth who choose to stay in foster care beyond the age of 18. Two hundred and seventy attendees representing counties across the state - representation spanning from Sacramento to the Bay Area to San Diego - gathered to focus on the implementation of extended foster care in California. Images from this event are available in the Crossroads 2012 Gallery.
Several panels and nineteen workshops were delivered by representatives from agencies including the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the Los Angeles County Probation Department, the John Burton Foundation, New Ways to Work, a number of Workforce Investment Boards, and the Alliance for Children’s Rights. The presentations informed attendants of the implications of AB12 and the need to improve the ways in which foster youth are prepared for independence.
Leaders and practitioners stressed the necessity of collaboration amongst agencies and departments statewide, and provided examples of programs that are working across the state. A panel of private sector employers shared their sense of the emerging workforce needs and offered support to provide employment access to foster youth.
AB12, implemented January 1, 2012, was introduced by U.S. Representative Karen Bass, 33rd Congressional District, and Assembly Member Jim Beall in 2008. It extends transitional support services for qualifying foster youth to the age of 21 (referred to as EFC, Extended Foster Care). Previously, once those youth in foster care turned 18, they were emancipated and cut off from obtaining services, leaving many ill-equipped to fully assume adult responsibilities and unable to negotiate the stressors of adult life. Extended Foster Care provides youth the benefit of a safety net through their young adult years assisting them in the transition to adulthood.
“It is unthinkable that in the richest country on the planet, we cannot figure out how to take care of the children that we have taken out of their homes,” said Rep. Karen Bass, who provided the opening keynote address for the conference. “We have become the parent as the government and we can’t figure out how to do that? Shame on us.”
“Unfortunately, I’ve experienced homelessness,” said Barry Bartlett, a former foster youth, now 21. In foster care, Bartlett lived with a relative and, later, a group home with three other boys where living with strangers included having to deal with issues such as theft and fighting. “The biggest stereotype of foster youth is that it’s our fault. No, it’s our parents’ fault and the decisions they made. We’re left confused, longing for love.” said Bartlett. Currently Bartlett holds down three jobs and has struggled with the adjustment to adulthood. Although he cannot take advantage of AB12 because of his age, he sees the new law as “really changing lives” for those that come after him.
The consensus among the child welfare and workforce agencies is that serving foster youth through their journey into adulthood and beyond includes mentoring, guidance, education and employment.
Vincent D’Averso runs a program that recruits and trains mentors and mentees age 18-22 at The Alliance for Children’s Rights. He believes foster youth need help with self-esteem, goal setting and the ability to advocate for themselves. “Mentoring can be life changing. It’s positive reinforcement they’ve never received before.”
David Crippens, Chair of the Los Angeles WIB Youth Council, has long fought to provide employment opportunities for youth.
“This is our workforce. We can’t import from other states,” said Crippens. “The youth workforce is absolutely essential to the prosperity of the state.”
Currently there are 35,000 foster care children in Los Angeles County alone. California’s foster care system emancipates approximately 5,000 of these children yearly, most unprepared for the road ahead of them. Philip L Browning, the new Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services Director, called for immediate action in changing the way agencies prepare foster youth for adulthood.
“We cannot continue to do what we’ve always done - waiting too long to have ‘the talk’ about who you want to be, what you want to do. We need to have honest conversation earlier.”
Youth at the Crossroads brought together the right players for a serious exploration of how to best use the opportunity that extended foster care can provide, ensuring that all youth are well prepared and supported in the transition to adulthood.
Download Youth at the Crossroads 2012 Event Materials:
- YATC Event Agenda Packet
- YATC Presentations and Materials Package
- California Fostering Connections to Success Act Assembly Bill 12 Primer
Foster youth speak on their experiences in foster care and hopes for AB12, the Fostering Connections to Success Act in California (video, WIB YouTube Channel). To learn more about CA Fostering Connections, please visit their website at www.CAFosteringConnections.org.