January 23, 2024

Youth Law Center 2023 Advocacy for Impact: Part I. Foster Care Systems in California and Nationwide

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Youth Law Center’s advocacy work to change systems through impact litigation, movement lawyering, policy reform, collaboration, public education and training, and coalition building is unique. We integrate developmental research in practice and policy; use the law to define, protect, and affirm young people’s rights; mobilize lawyers and other advocates; and, most importantly, listen to and elevate the voices of children, youth, and families.

Our work is more important than ever, as communities and systems struggle with the lingering impact of the pandemic, climate disasters, economic and labor changes, and a growing acknowledgment of how racial injustice impacts the most vulnerable children and families. To meet these challenges, the Youth Law Center has increased our advocacy work to build the power of youth and families to lead change in foster care and juvenile justice, expand the community of advocates for our youth, and increase systems oversight and accountability.

Together with our supporters, we take pride in celebrating the hard earned victories that we have achieved, and we are excited to launch a new series of impact stories to share some of our most significant victories from 2023 in foster care, juvenile justice and overall legal advocacy.

Before we begin the series with highlights of our most important achievements in foster care systems in California and across the country, we invite you to click here to join our virtual webinar discussion about the On the Threshold of Change project on Wednesday, January 31, at 10 am PT / 1 pm ET. 

We defended against the increasing overuse of harmful settings to house youth in foster care through legislative and administrative advocacy. Additionally, we secured a negotiated settlement agreement with Sacramento County, California to end the practice of placing foster children in unlicensed settings and instead provide them with expanded community based therapeutic supports, and robust family finding and engagement. This litigation was prompted after learning Sacramento County was housing children in foster care illegally in the former Sacramento juvenile hall. This unlicensed facility, while no longer in use as a juvenile hall, was clearly still a jail – it had armed sheriffs doubling as staff, no kitchen, no place for children to do homework, and forced children to sleep in cells. We continue to work with the county on needed changes, and have published a blueprint to share what we learned is key to addressing these practices in agencies across the country.

We provided a series of 15 trainings and workshops designed to strengthen access to civil legal aid for transition aged youth across the state on topics such as preventing homelessness for youth involuntarily exiting extended foster care housing, equitable education access for girls and LGBTQI+ youth, and best practices for attorneys providing civil legal services to youth. 100% of participating civil legal aid attorneys reported they felt better supported in their client advocacy, gained substantive knowledge of new topics to assist in their advocacy for youth, and learned more about the work of other advocates across the state to improve their advocacy.

We engaged in successful advocacy to create a California referral network of legal services attorneys to ensure that youth have access to specialty mental health services to which they are entitled to, by providing assistance with denials or delays in access. Without prompt access to these services, children and families are subjected to additional trauma, relationships can be destabilized, and youth may end up in institutional settings or homeless. This jointly created outreach document provides an overview for clients living in the 32 counties served by Legal Services of Northern California, as an example of one partner organization in this effort.

Through our Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI), we have trained and graduated over 450 community advocates, particularly directly-impacted youth and families, to champion systems changes for children in their own communities in California, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. Our QPI Champions advocacy support focuses on enforcing the rights of children and youth to live in families and have their relationships protected, and to ensure they and their families receive appropriate supports and fully participate in systems decision making. We have also amplified family and youth voices by launching a text-based data collection system used by QPI agency leadership to involve foster parents and kin in agency decision-making and to create direct feedback loops between families and agency decision makers to ensure children’s needs are being met.

We engaged the Institute for the Future to provide training in foresight strategies to youth leaders from the California Youth Connection to co-create a new vision for supporting youth to thrive in the coming decade amidst climate change, technology advancement, and increasing social volatility.

These training sessions and discussions resulted in the new project On the Threshold of Change: Forces That Could Transform Future Conditions for Youth in Extended Foster Care, a collaborative project of California Youth Connection, Institute for the Future, and Youth Law Center.

Funded by Tipping Point Community, On the Threshold of Change, scheduled for release on Wednesday, January 24, is the first-ever report to use strategic foresight to develop a new vision for extended foster care in response to the future forces that will dramatically change the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people who will experience foster care over the next decade as they make the difficult transition to adulthood in a rapidly changing world. This report is based on 1) over a decade of research on the outcomes of youth after new federal funds were made available in 2008 to extend foster care to age 21; 2) the wisdom of youth who have experienced the transition from foster care to adulthood; and, 3) the insight of experts in fields such as foresight, youth development, technology, the economy, climate change, and the role of family. The report will be available on our website here on Wednesday, January 24 – https://www.ylc.org/on-the-threshold-of-change/.

We invite you to click here to register for a virtual webinar discussion about the On the Threshold of Change project on Wednesday, January 31, 2024 at 10:00 am PT/1:00 PM ET.