As a former foster youth who now works at a group home in Los Angeles County, Laura Lomeli has seen how the system can fail to keep youth informed about their rights.
During about seven years she spent in foster care Lomeli attended 17 different high schools.
In addition to a rocky path through the educational system, Lomeli also struggled with being separated from her five biological siblings while she was in care and never having a chance to visit them.
“So many of the youth are just separated from their siblings, and I think that’s just really crucial to their future to be able to at least have that connection,” Lomeli said in a recent interview.
Now as California begins to embark on a “colossal reform” of the state’s foster care system, Los Angeles County is hoping to create a way for foster youth to better understand their rights and utilize available services established for foster youth through new federal and state legislation.
Supervisors Janice Hahn and Sheila Kuehl are proposing that L.A. County create its own foster youth bill of rights, which would spell out the county’s obligations to foster youth in its care.
“Every child, youth, resource and/or birth parent, social worker, and community stakeholder needs to know about the mandates we must abide by, the resources and services that we must provide, and the rights of those that have been entrusted to our care,” their motion states.
The Board of Supervisors will consider the motion to establish the Foster Youth Bill of Rights and Services at its next meeting on Tuesday, July 18.
Starting this year, California is rolling out a set of new laws known as Continuum of Care Reform (CCR) that will change the state’s foster care system by shifting away from a reliance on group homes. Instead, the state aims to place more children in family settings, as well as improving access to mental health services.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a federal education reform bill now being implemented, mandates that every state and school district coordinate to provide foster youth with transportation to the school where they were enrolled when they entered foster care. This policy would prevent youth like Lomeli from bouncing between schools when foster care placements end.
Part of the supervisors’ reason for having a robust bill of rights at the county level is to fill the gaps of California’s Foster Youth Bill of Rights, which informs the state’s foster youth of the full range of social services available to them and clarifies their basic rights in the state’s foster care system. This was passed in 2001, though it was criticized by the state’s Foster Care Ombudsman in a 2013 report.
Recently, the state Legislature updated the Foster Youth Bill of Rights and tried to strengthen it by passing Assembly Bill 1067 last year.
Lomeli, now 22, said she lacked knowledge about what her rights were and what services were available to her while in foster care.
“I didn’t have much guidance on what opportunities were being offered to me from the system,” she said.
Lomeli expressed optimism that the motion proposed by Board of Supervisors could help to train local social workers and equip them to inform foster youth about their rights and the services available to them. She is already involved in foster care advocacy through the National Foster Youth Institute, and she hopes to play a part in crafting the legislation.
Former foster youth would, according to the motion, help create and review the Foster Youth Bill of Rights and Services, along with the leaders of county agencies and nonprofits.
“I feel that it’s always best to learn from someone who has lived through it and who has actually experienced the foster care system hands-on and knows the ins and outs of it,” Lomeli said.