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Fate Of AB 12 Uncertain As Deadline Looms

Susan Shimotsu |
September 29, 2010 | 2:33 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

California Statehouse (Creative Commons)
California Statehouse (Creative Commons)
Passed by the California Legislature with strong bipartisan support, the fate of AB 12 now rests in the hands of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has until Friday to act on the bill that would extend foster care services until age 21. 

Officially known as the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, AB 12 aims to keep foster kids in the system past the current age limit of 18, at which time about 5,000 children annually are aged out and often left on their own.

Under the guidelines of AB 12, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Beall, Jr., these young adults would continue to receive financial aid, transitional housing, tutoring and counseling for three extra years.

"AB 12 is important because it would extend foster care to age 21 in California," said Daniel Heimpel, project director for Fostering Media Connections, a grassroots organization that pushes for foster care reform. "With one-eighth of the nation's foster youth living in California, extension of care here would unleash a wave of positive change across the nation."

Research has shown that people who stay in foster care past age 18 are more likely to stay in school, find stable housing and employment and stay out of jail.

AB 12 would require that foster children complete high school or a GED, attend college or vocational school, enroll in programs to reduce employment barriers or work at least 80 hours a month to maintain their eligibility until age 21. A study by the University of Washington estimates that California would see a return of $2.41 per $1 committed to the programs endorsed by AB 12 because it promotes financial independence and self-sufficiency.

With a record $19 billion budget deficit, critics say California cannot afford to start any more programs. But proponents point out that AB 12 takes care of the funding challenges by aligning itself with federal guidelines that make it eligible for federal money.

A federal law passed in 2008 allows states to use federal funds to establish programs that award relative guardianship instead of foster care and offer services to former foster children until they turn 21. Should AB 12 pass, it would allow California to accept these funds, potentially saving the state millions by turning some of its existing programs into federally subsidized programs.

AB 12 is one of the only bills to be passed with broad support from both parties. In the original Assembly vote in January, AB 12 passed unanimously, 72-0. 

But in order to become law, AB 12 needs Schwarzenegger’s signature. While it has strong support from the Legislature, the governor has not indicated which way he will decide, mostly due to the budget crisis and committing money California simply does not have.

Heimpel, however, is hopeful Schwarzenegger will take the "morally correct" action and make AB 12 a reality for foster children across the state.

"If the governor wants to leave with a bright spot on his legacy, he will sign," Heimpel said. "This is too great an opportunity to miss."


To reach reporter Susan Shimotsu, click here.

Follow her on Twitter: @susanfromtx.

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