Kids in county foster care programs depend on us to protect and raise them with same care we show our own children.
But the system isn’t working. A disproportionate number of foster kids grow up to lives of poverty, public assistance, homelessness and, in many cases, prison. We must do better.
In 2012, the Legislature approved a bill to extend foster care in California allowing eligible 18-year-olds to stay in the system until 21. That was an important start. But we still don’t provide them with sufficient services.
Consider this: only half of California’s eligible foster students get Pell Grants to attend community colleges when almost all qualify. Why? They need someone to show them how to get federal aid. It’s hard enough for students with two parents to wade through the process.
We can change the odds for foster youths by supporting Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Senator Jim Beall, D-San Jose. It requires that county child welfare agencies have one person to assist foster youths with financial aid applications and fast tracks the federal process for allowing them to verify they are foster youths.
The bill also would expand support for foster youths at more community colleges. But college won’t be part of a foster child’s future if the school districts and foster system don’t work in tandem. Communication is critical.
If a neglected child is taken from his home and spends the night at a receiving center, a point person in the school district needs to know about it and be prepared to help so kids don’t fall behind in school, lose their focus and fail.
In Santa Clara County, we work to create a network of point people to focus on foster children’s education. Other counties should do the same.
We know that abuse and neglect will forever change a child’s future if they don’t have caring adults who will put them at the front of the line to get the services they need to thrive and succeed.
We already know what the bottom looks like for them. We can either help them become productive, healthy members of society now, or pay for their services later on. We are family and we cannot fail them.
Cindy Chavez is a Santa Clara County supervisor, and chair of the Santa Clara County Joint Foster Youth Task Force, Cindy.Chavez@bos.sccgov.org.