Study of Fostering Connections to Success Act Highlights Importance of Evidence
This report documents the successes and challenges of implementing the California’s Fostering Connections to Success Act (commonly known as AB12). As a result of AB12, as of January 1, 2012, foster youth in California who turn 18 have the right to stay in care until their 21st birthday. This report details the role played by stakeholders and explores the degree to which research evidence was used in both the legislative and implementation planning phases of AB12.
What we did
Researchers traced the history of AB12 from its inception to its implementation, which spanned December 2008 to 2011. They focused on the role of nongovernmental stakeholders, such as advocates, providers’ associations, and foundations. They carried out 38 interviews with key stakeholders in person and over the phone. Other sources of data included in-person participant observation at stakeholder meetings, notes from open conference calls, and document review of the legislative history, rules of the court, press releases, meeting agendas, and other communication from advocates.
What we found
Overall, AB12 is a flexible and generous policy that provides foster youth with many protections and multiple ways they can stay in the system and access support. This resulted from stakeholders who ensured that the program they worked to pass was the one that was implemented.
Even in time of fiscal cutbacks and reduced state capacity, collaboration between government and nonprofit stakeholders has the potential to lead to policy change. First, stakeholders from county government and the judicial branch who were involved in passing AB12 also played a role in planning its implementation. Their involvement led to an inclusive implementation planning process. Second, research needs to be geared to policymakers’ concerns in order for it to be effective in shaping legislative decisions. In times of budgetary constraints, research evidence about cost effectiveness may be as important as research evidence about program or policy effectiveness.
What it means
The successful enactment of AB12 provides evidence of the importance of a long-term implementation effort in which individuals involved in passing the legislation are also committed to the process during implementation. This collaborative implementation planning process improved AB12, but led to discussion that may have slowed down the process. In addition, advocates, like policymakers, have preexisting priorities that may or may not be based in research evidence. Researchers should recognize the power that advocates have in the policy process and make sure that research targets them as well as legislators and government administrators. Finally, once policies are in play, evidence about whether they are working is valuable. In particular, state-level evidence about effectiveness and costs is necessary in order to keep the policy and build on it.