Acosta urges support for foster youth bill

Assemblyman Dante Acosta speaks about this new bill that would support foster children at a press conference at College of the Canyons on Friday, May 12, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal
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Seeking approval for Assembly Bill 754, Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) hosted a press conference outside the College of the Canyons Student Center Friday morning to ask constituents to rally behind his legislation.

Known also as the Foster Youth Enrichment Grant Program, the bill would provide grants up to $500 for extracurricular activities for foster youth in California, including field trips, graduation fees, STEM programs and the arts.

“Such activities would not only enrich the lives of foster youth, infusing them with hope and excitement, but it would provide them with a robust résumé to then apply to secondary education and a bright future,” Acosta said.

Though California has the sixth largest economy in the world, it is 38th in overall child well-being, Acosta said. More than one-fourth of foster youth will be incarcerated within two years of leaving the system and one-third will never get their high school diploma or GED, Acosta cited.

“Extracurricular activities and enrichment activities are a proven methodology of preventing foster youth from succumbing to those statistics,” he said.

Additionally, he said these added activities enhance students’ attendance, motivation, academic achievement and behavior. This contributes to a higher grade point average and increased college enrollment rate, according to the assemblyman.

A “bill of rights” for foster youth was introduced in 2001, Acosta said, but the mandate has never been completely funded.

Addressing concerns from other assembly members, Acosta said the bill is not a frivolous use of $15 million in funds for the state’s over 61,000 youth in foster care.

“This bill is not just a luxury, but a necessity for the overall well-being of foster youth,” Acosta said.

Serena Skinner, legislative committee member for California Youth Connection and former foster youth, said she believes the bill would have enhanced her own educational experience.

“Our members believe every foster youth should have the ability to partake in activities that may be a positive outlet and have a lasting impact, which is what this bill with accomplish,” Skinner said.

President of Ventura County Foster Parent Association Rick Pugh has personally housed 90 foster children with his family over the past nine years. He said the struggles of providing extracurricular expenses are amplified for foster children.

“As care providers, one of our biggest struggles is being able to provide normalcy and allowing the children that are placed with us to have the experiences that any other child would in our community,” Pugh said.

Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn will introduce a motion on Tuesday, May 16 on behalf of AB 754 to encourage Governor Jerry Brown and the legislature to support it.

Assembly Bill 754 has already passed through the Health and Human Services committee and is currently awaiting approval in the Appropriations Committee. If it passes there, it will go to the full assembly floor.

Since the bill was first introduced in February, language has changed in some areas of the bill. It is now clarified that funding will be distributed by counties and students must provide either forms or receipts for proof to receive funds, not necessarily both.

Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), among eight others, is a coauthor on the bill.

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