For the past two years I've had the privilege of working alongside the Children's Action Network (CAN) on a project called This is Me, a series of videos profiling children in the Los Angeles foster care system who are eligible for adoption. I've met and fallen in love with these kids, most between the ages of 10 and 17, as they talk to the camera about themselves, their hopes and dreams. They have grown up in foster homes and group homes, moving many times in their short lives. Often they're separated from siblings and have no family to speak of. It's a challenging life, and yet these kids want what all kids want, to be a doctor, lawyer, actor, basketball player, to have fun with their friends, to see the world, but mostly, they want love and a family of their own. Fox's Good Day LA has partnered with CAN, who works with the Los Angeles Dept. of Children and Family Services, and airs the films on alternate Fridays and on their website. Some of the children we profile will find homes. The reality is that many will not.
What happens to those who don't? They will stay in the system until age 18, when the state is no longer responsible for them. About 5,000 kids age out of California foster care every year. Having been removed from their original homes because of abuse, neglect or abandonment, they have effectively been raised by the state. When they turn 18, they are literally, and often, devastatingly, turned out on their own. With no natural supports, many of them become homeless. No money, no roof over their head, no family, they often become victims of crime or become criminals themselves.
Right now there is a bill sitting on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk called the California Fostering Connections to Success Act (AB 12), authored by Assembly Members Jim Beall and Karen Bass. Both houses of the state legislature have overwhelmingly approved it. The bill represents one of our best opportunities to change the lives and outcomes for thousands of foster youth in California. To ease the strain of its costs on California's economy, the legislation will be phased in over 3 years starting in 2012, and the Federal government will supply a matching fund that will help pay for it.
If the Governor signs this bill, emancipated foster youth will have the option of continuing to receive vital services until age 21 if they meet certain eligibility requirements, such as remaining in school or having a job.
There is plenty of research to prove that extending benefits to foster kids during these first difficult years in college, or as they enter the work force, will save California considerable money down the line.
Plus, let's face it, it's the right thing to do. Governor Schwarzenegger has always been a champion of children's' rights and a friend to kids with special needs. I'm sure that my husband's "twin" brother will do the right thing. He'll pick up his pen today and sign AB12. That alls I'm sayin'.