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Foster youth debates emancipation

Photo courtesy of Flickr user m t miller

About 4,000 foster youth emancipate each year in California. Many of them have no place to go. A new law that went into effect this year aims to help them transition to adulthood. AB12 allows foster youth to stay in state care until they are 20 years old. They get financial support, and help finding housing and scholarships for college. They also have to check in with a social worker, and have regular court dates. Advocates hope the law will reduce the chances that these young people will end up homeless. Kayla Seay is in foster care and has been wrestling with the decision to take the extra support or to go out on her own as an independent adult. Youth Radio brings this story.

– By Kayla Seay

I’m one of the first teens to choose whether to emancipate or stay in foster care under AB12. I’ve been in the system for two years, and I feel if-y about whether I want to stay in. I want to be independent – and for the last two years, I’ve felt like the state has had control over my life.

Every week I go to a class called the Independent Living Skills Program, or ILSP. They teach me how to write checks, find an apartment and budget money. Ken Shaw runs the Alameda County ILSP, so I asked him, “Should I leave foster care or stay?”

“The con, if you will, is you have to put up with social worker coming to see you once a month if you stay under AB12. Also the court continues to sort of be in your business. They want to make sure you’re doing okay,” Shaw told me.

Lots of teens want to live independently, but for foster kids there’s a particular appeal – we’d get a shot at making our home stable.

But on the other hand, sometimes I do need support, which is why I find this AB12 decision really confusing. And apparently I’m not the only one who’s confused.

Peggy Stone from the East Bay Children’s Law Offices said there are “some things about AB12 that, because it’s so new, nobody has really completely figured it out yet.” Stone is my attorney. “The most exciting thing is going to be the benefit that involves additional types of support housing to foster youth under AB12,” Stone added.

I asked Stone if foster youth could live in their own apartments under the AB12 law. She said she thought it was possible. Stone told me that the goal of the law isn’t to keep youth like me under constant supervision. It’s to make it easier for us to become independent.

Every time I meet with advisors, they tell me to try out AB12 so that I can get the extra support. But it makes me feel like they don't think I’m ready to take care of myself. This is where AB12 gets tricky, because it means asking myself whether or not I can be as independent as I dream of being.

Ken Shaw made me question this point even more. “It’s hard for an 18-year-old to be able to get a place to live independently, which means they probably have to hook up with a roommate of some kind – perhaps some of them move back in with their parents – which may not be the best thing because maybe their mom or dad may still be having problems,” Shaw explained. “A lot of times we’ve had young people that have come to us at 18-and-a-half to 19 that are really on the street and are really desperate for a place to live, and we scurry around trying to find places for them.”

The more I think about AB12, the more I worry about whether I could live independently. I’m applying for full-time jobs, but I don’t have one yet. I recently got my driver’s license, but I don’t have a car. I feel like I’m taking steps to reach my goals, but I haven’t reached them yet.

So for now, I want to stay in care under AB12 – at least until I feel like I’m financially stable. I don’t like that the court will still have control over my decisions, but I’m willing to go along with it for now. And I’m looking forward to the day when I can get my very own apartment, without asking anyone’s approval.