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    Improving Care for Pregnant and Parenting Foster Youth

    philLeeosha has been going through foster care in Alameda County since she was four years old. Although repeat shifts from one home to another caused her to rebel and fall behind in school, everything changed when she became pregnant at age 17.

    Determined to become a good mother, Leeosha crafted a plan with her high school counselor to graduate on time. She succeeded, but didn’t have family able to support her and her daughter. Fortunately, Leeosha’s social worker told her about a program that has helped her attend college and find work.

    Unfortunately, the biographies of most pregnant and parenting foster youth do not end so well. That is why I have teamed up with First Place for Youth—the Oakland-based organization helping Leeosha—along with the John Burton Foundation of San Francisco and the Children’s Law Center of California, to author reform legislation to help young parents like Leeosha.

    My Assembly Bill (AB) 1838 will help pregnant and parenting foster youth by reforming how we help them. It increases the monthly cash supplement available to parenting foster youth by nearly 70 percent, allows mothers to receive these payments six months prior to their due date in order to encourage prenatal care access, and develops a new infant supplement for youth in group homes.

    Out of approximately 60,000 foster youth in California, nearly 7,000 reside in the Bay Area and 850 are parents. Put another way, young women in foster care are two and a half times more likely to become pregnant by age 19. Children of parents in foster care are also three times more likely than their peers to spend time in foster care.

    Growing up in foster care presents some tough challenges. Adding pregnancy and childcare on top of vulnerability to poverty, homelessness, and health care access makes transitioning out of foster care even more difficult at age 21. Our responsibility is to prevent a range of intergenerational socioeconomic disadvantages from taking root—notably inadequate nutrition, cognitive delays, poor physical health, behavioral issues, and low academic achievement.

    In 2014, the California Youth Transitions to Adulthood Study found that 20 percent of foster care mothers who became pregnant were not able to receive any prenatal care, increasing the likelihood that their children would be born with health problems or could be stillborn. Additional studies found that over a third of foster youth who had their first child before the age of 18 had given birth again while in foster care. These short-term birth intervals pose a risk to both mother and child because there is an increased risk of placental abruption, low birth weight, and pre-term birth.

    As a society, we cannot choose whether children are born into challenging circumstances.  Our choice concerns what we do to help them succeed.

    AB 1838 is not going to end these challenges of our society, but it is a start. Pregnant and parenting foster youth like Leeosha need our help so that their children have a better life. That is what the American Dream is all about. Let’s make sure that our foster youth can dream too.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma, Daly City, and South San Francisco.