May 31, 2022general
Foster Care Awareness Month Month GUEST BLOG BY Assemblymember Isaac Bryan
Foster Care Awareness Month Month
GUEST BLOG BY Assemblymember Isaac Bryan
The month of May is Foster Care Awareness Month. All of us can agree that all children deserve an education, a safe place to call home, and a supportive network of loved ones to guide them into becoming successful, happy adults. We applaud those who choose to open their hearts and their homes to our foster youth. Foster Care Awareness Month is the time to reaffirm our commitment to these principles. And it’s the time for taking a hard look at what actions we are taking to make sure we are providing this quality of life for all youth.
For me, foster care is much more than a public service. I grew up in a family of fifteen as one of nine adopted children. Born to a teenage mother unable to care for me, I found my family in Leonard and Susan Bryan. My parents were truly committed to the belief that all children deserve a loving home. Over 26 years, they served as foster parents for nearly 200children. I’m proud to be raised by them.
But many children passing through the foster care system are not as fortunate. I have seen firsthand many examples of how the system can fail to support children by leaving gaps in care, under funding critical programs, overlooking the unique needs of each child, or failing to support families that are eager to be reunited.
California’s child welfare system is the largest in the nation with more than 60,000 children in foster care. Our foster youth are overwhelmingly Black and Latino and can have widely varying needs, including physical or developmental disabilities. Many are coming from backgrounds of neglect, abuse, or exploitation and bear both physical and mental scars of their trauma. Some children are placed in foster care for a matter of weeks, while others will remain in care until they reach adulthood.
Some are placed with relatives who already know and understand their unique set of needs. Others will be placed with strangers who must drastically adapt their homes and lives to meet their foster child’s needs. Foster parents that are well-versed in the intricacies of “the system” will know how to access supportive public and private services, but many will struggle to navigate a complicated, often disjointed, landscape of rules, paperwork, and requirements. Considering the common challenges faced by the majority of foster youth and their caregivers, it is unsurprising that they are more likely than their peers to have school absences, suspensions, and to dropout. Nor is it surprising that 61% of foster youth struggle with serious mental health challenges. As youth age out of the system, many face additional long-term hurdles. Today, approximately half end up without a job or home. Today, within two years of transitioning out of foster care, 25% of former foster youth are under the supervision of our state’s criminal legal system.
One of my top legislative priorities this year is addressing some of the weaknesses in the foster care system that continue to lock foster youth out of the best possible outcomes.
We know that outcomes for all families and for young people are strongest when children can be kept home from the beginning –and if not, when families can be reunified. A core principal of foster care is to reunite children with their birth parents or other close relatives. The data is clear. We know that the longer a child spends in the child welfare system, the greater the likelihood they have of involvement in the juvenile justice system, the greater the likelihood they have of doing poorly in school. These all lead to additional bad outcomes later in life for these kids. .
But for some families, the biggest barrier to reunification is cost. This is why – working in partnership with families, foster youth organizations and with our child welfare system providers -- we’ve authored two pieces of legislation to support family reunification.
Current law requires welfare agencies to refer parents to the state’s child support system where they are charged for the time their child spent in foster care. AB 1686 will ensure that cost does not create a barrier to reunification. And AB 2159 addresses the fact that parents who can’t afford bail are treated differently than those who have the money to pay to go home before their trial.
In California, foster youth that are 12 years or older are invited to participate in their own case plan, including reviewing and signing documents. But nearly half of Californians live in a household where a language other than English is regularly spoken. AB 1735 will require language services for foster youth to ensure these important documents are available in the language they will best understand.
Protecting and uplifting the interests of foster youth is a fundamental duty of my work in public service. And there is more work to be done. I intend to continue supporting our youth by fighting for the services they need during their time in the foster system, as well as ensuring that our promise to these kids doesn’t end when they leave care. We all face our own paths through life and into adulthood, and it’s our responsibility to help each other – particularly these young people – make that difficult transition a success.
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