Study of California Fostering Connections Act Finds Strengths and Weaknesses in Housing Opportunities
California’s Fostering Connections Act, often referred to as AB 12, allows the state to draw on federal funds to support foster youth past the age of eighteen. One of the main requirements of this legislation is the limitation of the residential settings youth may reside in. This report is one of the first to qualitatively examine the residential settings provided to young adults through extended foster care in California.
What we did
In 2013, we spoke with nonminor dependents across California. Sixty-one young people in six counties participated in seven focus groups. The focus groups lasted an average of 45 minutes and ranged in size from six to ten participants. Thirty-five of the young adults also participated in in-depth interviews. To get further details about some residential settings, five individuals who were staff of agencies supervising the residential settings of nonminor dependents also participated in in-depth interviews. The in-depth interviews took an average of 90 minutes. Focus group participants discussed their experiences in extended care; the types of places they had resided in; their relationships with caregivers, guardians, and/or caseworkers; and their views on ways to improve their experiences under the law.
What we found
The young people we talked with see California’s Fostering Connections Act as being very beneficial during their transition to adulthood. Overwhelmingly, young adults remain confident that extended foster care will provide them the chance for a more stable adulthood than if they were forced to leave care at age 18. Yet, the young people also paint a very complex picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the living arrangements supported by the law. Generally, these settings adequately provide young adults with basic necessities. Some young people did find themselves in less than optimal conditions, with problems both inside and outside of their apartment units that were beyond their control. Often due to constraints in availability, either resulting from finances or landlords’ unwillingness to rent to young people in state care, apartment complexes were not in ideal locations for young people, forcing them to spend a great deal of time commuting to school or relatively low-wage jobs.
What it means
This law provides young people with a longer period of transition, including the opportunity to learn how to manage growing autonomy and responsibility, before being entirely disconnected from state care. Transitional housing placements (THP+FC) and Supervised Independent Living Placements (SILPs) are a work in progress in California, and foster parents are beginning to come to terms with what it means to foster young adults. These placement options will evolve as California gains experience providing extended foster care to young adults. It is also important to keep in mind that the challenges and opportunities these young people encountered are common among the broader population of young people making the transition to adulthood. Obtaining housing that is safe, affordable, and convenient is a particular challenge for young adults living in places like California that have relatively expensive rental housing markets.
One of the study’s limitations is that our sample is not representative of all nonminor dependents in California. Our purposive sampling allowed us to speak with a range of young adults living in different residential settings throughout the state. However, we are not able to say how similar this sample is to the population of all nonminor dependents throughout the state. In addition, young people living in THP+FC settings are overrepresented in our sample while young adults living in SILPs and with foster parents are underrepresented.