Foster youth's capitol visit is inspiring
Glenn County's foster youth came back from the state Capitol this week filled with hope.
Six members of the local chapter of California Youth Connection rallied with 200 youth from 32 counties Monday for legislation that could help ensure foster youth are given quality care.
The advocacy group talked to legislators about sponsoring a bill that would require the State Department of Social Services to develop and implement a caregiver evaluation process.
The evaluation would allow licensing agencies to be better informed when it comes to matching youth with the appropriate caregiver or home, said Ashley Beecham, Youth Connection coordinator with the Glenn County Office of Education.
"It's just another tool that can be used to make sure a foster home is the right fit for a child," Beecham said.
Like many foster kids, Beecham spent most of her life in the system.
She now mentors others who are in foster care.
Approximately 60 children live apart from their parents in Glenn County, although as many as 100 have been in foster care recently, said Robin Smith, Glenn County Foster Service Program coordinator.
A bill requiring foster home and caregiver evaluations would not just determine ineffective homes, Smith said, but would shine a spotlight on quality homes and caregivers, making it easier for the county to place children in good homes.
"Only Florida has a similar law," Smith said.
Other states have only implemented caregiver evaluation requirements for homes fostering developmentally disabled adults.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey signed "Tara's Law," in 2012, named for Tara O'Leary, a 28-year-old developmentally disabled woman who died from starvation and neglect in a foster care home in 2008.
Mia Villa, 15, a student at Orland High School, said her experience at Monday's rally was inspiring.
The Youth Connection members spent two days in Sacramento, which was the first visit to the State Capital for most of them.
"It was a lot of fun," she said, "but I also learned so much. I really hope the evaluations are something that happens in the future."
Villa believes having better information about caregivers and homes would make entering foster care less traumatic for the child.
"Walking into a stranger's home is scary," said Villa, who has been in foster care six months. "Some foster kids are sent to 10 or 11 different homes before they find one that works out. I think the evaluations, especially if there is an opportunity for the kid to meet caregivers first, would reduce that and make the child feel more comfortable about going into someone's home."
Like many of the youth who attended the rally, Mia shared her personal story with legislators in hopes a bill could be passed.
"I use to lived with my grandparents," Villa said. "I met my mother when I was seven. She died when I was eight. When I had to go into foster care six months ago it was pretty scary."
Although California Youth Connection has been around since 1988, Glenn County is its newest chapter.
In addition to being an advocacy group that encourages foster youth to have a voice on legislation, Youth Connection serves to motivate youth to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding foster care in the hope of reducing stigma and discrimination.
"Members of Youth Connection are like a family, Beecham said. "That is how they see each other."
The organization has had tremendous success in California getting legislators to address the needs of children in foster care.
Several years ago, Youth Connection members rallied for extending benefits and care of foster youth to age 21.
As a result, Assembly Bill 12 was signed into law on Sept. 30, 2010 and took effect on Jan. 1, 2012.
A provision of the bill extended assistance up to the age of 19 in 2012, age 20 in 2013, and may go up to age 21, depending on additional money being appropriated by the Legislature in 2014.
Beecham said the bill helps to address homelessness among youth who were typically pushed from foster homes at age 18.
"Homelessness has always been a huge problem for foster kids," she said. "It is something we hope to change."
California Youth Connection, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, allows foster youth to be members until age 24, Beecham said.