Starting next month, pregnant foster youth in California will get an income boost from the state to help them prepare to welcome their new babies.
The expectant parent benefit, established by Assembly Bill 153 and taking effect Jan. 1, will provide $2,700 to help pay for necessities like car seats, cribs and changing tables, as well as items and services to help youth through the end stages of pregnancy, such as maternity clothes and birthing classes.
“Across cultures there are supportive practices or celebrations, like baby showers, to help new parents prepare for birth and share resources and information to help meet the needs of a new family and infant,” said Anna Johnson, senior project manager with the nonprofit John Burton Advocates for Youth. “Pregnant youth in foster care should have the same healthy start to their families as their peers not in care.”
While parenting foster youth are already eligible for monthly stipends to help cover the cost of raising a child, this new benefit extends that help ahead of the baby’s due date. In recognition of the many expenses an expectant parent faces before the baby is born, the funds will be available beginning the seventh month of pregnancy. All pregnant youth in out-of-home care will be eligible to participate, including those who are on probation or undocumented.
Funds will be delivered directly to the young people, not their caregivers. Along with the payments, they will receive a sample budget to help them understand how much $2,700 will provide and offer guidance on planning their purchases. The California State Department of Social Services, which will administer the benefit, will create an online toolkit for caseworkers, to help them guide youth in preparing for their new babies.
Mara Ziegler, a senior social worker with the pro bono law firm Public Counsel, called the statewide program “a simple and concrete way to strengthen families.”
More than half of babies born to mothers in active foster care cases in California are reported to child protective services by the time they’re 3 years old, according to a 2019 study from the University of Southern California.
“These young parenting youth are under a type of scrutiny that most other new parents are not,” Ziegler said. “So having what they need to care for these new little people and prepare for the arrival of their children can help reduce the intergenerational cycle of entry again and again into the child welfare system.”
Advocates say the new benefit could help expectant parents in foster care remain in their placements during what can be a stressful time for many. It is also expected to relieve the burden on their caregivers to provide for the infants.
The model for the new benefit isn’t entirely new — a similar program was launched in Los Angeles County in 2018 using county funds to provide monthly payments of $450 during the final three months of pregnancy.
Attorney Luciana Svidler with the Children’s Law Center of California, which represents all youth in L.A. County’s foster care system, said the local program was an immediate hit and has been very successful in the four years since its inception.
“Anyone you ask, whether it’s the county, attorneys, the youth, everyone has been really happy with this collaboration,” Svidler said. “It’s been really helpful to get our clients situated, and really looking forward to seeing it happen throughout the state as well.”
Linda Carrasco, a 22-year-old former foster youth and mother of two, has participated in L.A.’s early infant supplement program for years. She said the extra funds have helped her family “immensely,” in ways both material and intangible.
“I have been able to provide my child with certain things that I feel people my age might not be able to,” said the young mother, who has a toddler and newborn at home. “I’ve been able to provide my child with a different outlook, not always having to say no to them when they want something, or no, we can’t afford these things.”
She added that the easing of her financial strain has helped her better juggle school and parenting.
“It’s opened up big opportunities for me to save and just be able to manage my time to spend time with my kids in general,” Carrasco said.