Life Begins at 18 . . . Or Ends

09/08/2010 12:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I graduated high school at 18 amid a flurry of dances, Senior Nights, and lunches on restaurant patios. Over the summer I selected extra-long twin sheets for my dorm room at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and wool sweaters from J. Crew for the East Coast cold. My parents flew 3,000 miles from Los Angeles to move me in, and left me with meal card in hand, tears in their eyes. They would return for Parents' Weekend; I would return for Thanksgiving and Christmas. "Anything you need, just call, honey."

What if I had no one to call? What if I had no one to call, and I hadn't even graduated high school yet?

If a foster youth turns 18 and hasn't been lucky enough to become part of a family, the obstacle course that is already her life gets ridiculous. Less than 40% of foster youth graduate high school. Less than 4% graduate college. And 50% of foster youth in L.A. County, where I live, will become homeless or incarcerated within two years of aging out of the system. That's about when I was struggling over what subject to major in and where to study abroad.

AB 12, a California state bill on Governor Schwarzenegger's desk right now, takes advantage of federal funding to help ease the transition for these youth until age 21. A 2009 study concluded that each state dollar invested in foster youth over the age of 18 returns $2.41. (Unemployment benefits and incarceration are expensive.) Prevention makes sense financially. And it's the decent thing to do.

Full disclosure: I'm an attorney at the Alliance for Children's Rights, an organization backing this bill. I'm not writing in my official capacity, though; I asked if I could write about AB 12 because my heart breaks every time a kid winds up in our office after couch-surfing has ended and park bench-surfing has begun. I hold my breath when we get a call from the kid who somehow made it to college--and has nowhere to go when the dorms close for holidays. These youth started with nothing, and made it this far on their own; the least we can do is give them the assistance they need to rent an apartment, secure a job, or apply for school loans.

If your parents took care of you--or if you took care of your own kids--please take a small step to parent these parentless youth. Let Governor Schwarzenegger know that you support AB 12. Follow this link to add your name to a letter of support, and to learn more. Or click the box on the Alliance homepage for a link to a letter you can sign and mail.

18 is when all of life's possibilities become yours for the taking--or when they evaporate, one by one, until nothing is left. Let's make it the former for as many kids as possible.