By Sparky Harlan
Last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed a flurry of bills. One that missed the media’s attention was AB 194, authored by our own assemblyman, Jim Beall. As legislation goes, this was a simple bill—youth aging out of foster care (ages 18-24) will now have priority to register for classes in state community colleges and universities. There was no opposition to the bill.
According to the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 25 percent of youth leaving foster care at 18 will experience an episode of homelessness within four years. With no family to fall back on, foster kids hit the street and become part of the homeless adult population or commit crimes to survive and go to prison.
There are about 60,000 children in foster care in California, and it is estimated that only 1,500 to 3,000 youth will be eligible to register early for college classes. In Santa Clara County, there are almost 1,000 children in foster care, and around 200 leave the system each year. The number of children in foster care is decreasing as we learn that providing child abuse prevention services in the home, or placing kids with a relative, has a better outcome than years bouncing from one foster home or group home placement.
Last year, landmark legislation AB 12 passed. It allows foster youth to stay in the system up to age 21. Youth will be able to stay in their foster homes or receive a housing subsidy only if they are enrolled in an education program. According to the author, Jim Beall, “70 percent of foster youth say they desire to go to college, however, 20 perent actually do attend college and only two to three percent graduate with a four-year degree.”
At Bill Wilson Center’s Transitional Housing Program, 62 percent of our former foster youth, some who are parents, are enrolled in college. Most attend a local community college while working full or part time. We provide up to 18 months of subsidized housing and independent living skills training to help youth become productive adults. We are proud of our success, but having priority registration will help our working parents get the classes they need. AB 194 will give foster youth a leg up on the fight to independence.
Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth. Under her leadership, Bill Wilson Center works to prevent poverty by connecting youth to employment, education, housing, and healthy relationships.