California lawmakers may have helped older foster youth from some of the immediate ravages of the coronavirus pandemic in the state’s recently passed budget, but the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center says it’s time to look forward and start planning now for long-term recovery strategies.
In a new policy brief, the 40-year-old organization issued a call for the state to create a “New Deal” for older foster youth, helping them transition into independent adulthood amid a hobbled economy.
The myriad consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for foster youth — homelessness following dorm closures, loss of personal connections, layoffs and more — disproportionately harm youth of color, who comprise the overwhelming majority of transition-age youth in foster care, according to the Youth Law Center.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature have worked with advocates to create some temporary relief during the pandemic for foster youth ages 18 through 21, suspending education and work requirements and allowing them to remain enrolled after their 21st birthdays, through next June. Some young adults will also be able to stay in their housing programs for a longer period of time.
“The Youth Law Center applauds these swift emergency actions to prevent homelessness, poverty, and disconnectedness among transition-age foster youth,” the group stated in a press release. “But our work to protect youths’ futures is just beginning.”
The advocates said the coronavirus crisis presents an opportunity to assess the Golden State’s 10-year-old extended foster care program and other elements of the safety net supporting young adults who are in or exiting foster care, to make sure they are youth-centered, tailored to individuals’ specific needs and effective.
To enhance this vulnerable population’s prospects for success even after the current crisis recedes, the “New Deal” proposed several long-term policy reforms to ensure a safety net that is strong and flexible enough to see young people through everyday crises as well as global ones.
The legal advocates are encouraging passage of state Senate Bill 912, authored by state Sen. Jim Beall (D), which creates an automatic extension for 21-year-olds when they age out of extended foster care during a formal state of emergency.
They propose measures that would prevent older foster youth from being evicted from transitional housing programs, unless there is an imminent safety concern. Many of these housing programs, they say, have been subject to state and local COVID-related eviction moratoriums, but have continued to force residents out during the public health crisis without written communication about these tenant protections.
The Youth Law Center is calling on policymakers to invest in appropriate housing and remote services for expectant and parenting foster youth, who are lacking important guidance and support under the state’s Stay-at-Home order.
Focused largely on preventing homelessness after the pandemic the brief also recommends funding for emergency housing and requiring counties to “immediately report” to the state the number of young adults in extended foster care who aren’t living in a safe and vetted housing placement.
“Without leadership and prompt action, youth in foster care face an uncertain and challenging future,” the brief states.