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This Foster Care Month Sees Hope Ahead

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May is National Foster Care Month and for California's 65,000 foster children and those who advocate on their behalf, it's a month to raise awareness of both some progress made and the ongoing need for more improvement in the services we provide our foster youth as they start their adult lives.

After a nearly unanimous vote of support out of the State Assembly, a bill I have co-authored with Assembly Member Jim Beall, Jr. of San Jose to support foster youth in California until they are 21 years old is now moving in the State Senate. The bill is called the California Fostering Connections to Success Act. This legislation extends support for foster youth to the age of 21. Currently foster youth are forced to "age out" of the system at age 18--often with no place to go. One young man told us of having birthday cake at his group home--and then being asked by them where he was going to go that night? He was told they were sorry, but he had to leave. States which have provided foster youth support to 21 have produced far better outcomes when it comes to foster youth's education, health, employment and incarceration rates. In these tough economic times, this support is critical.

Let's take stock of what we know happens to foster youth when they are forced to leave without support. Less than half have a high school diploma. Only 27% are able to find employment in the current job market, and even that is usually part time and for minimum wage. Only 15% of youth have access to supportive transitional housing and almost one out of ten receive absolutely no financial support whatsoever.

A major study comparing Illinois foster youth supported to the age of 21 and Wisconsin and Iowa foster youth left without support at 18 shows the Illinois youth to be three times more likely to enrol in college and 65% less likely to be arrested. The support also contributed to a 38% reduction in the risk of teen pregnancy. Our foster youth in California deserve better, and by supporting them in the period of their lives that we all know to be uncertain and unstable, we can set them on the path to becoming contributing members of society.

California stands to receive significant federal support for the California Fostering Connections to Success Act. This will help us give our foster youth the education and opportunities they need to help California contribute to a national economic recovery. With bipartisan support, I'm hopeful we can move this bill to the Governor's desk and create that opportunity. Our foster youth - and these are our kids -- have been down difficult roads toward adulthood and they deserve every chance to succeed.

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