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AB12 making a difference for foster youth
AB12 pic
Nick Smith, an 18-year-old participant of the AB12 foster program, talks with Creative Alternatives program director Lisa Jacobs at her Turlock office. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

When Nick Smith turned 18 he wasn't ready to live on his own. Unlike most young adults, however, Smith did not have a family able to offer a bridge of financial and emotional support to ease his transition into adulthood. Smith was a foster youth and lived in a group home with five other boys and constant adult supervision.

In the past, Smith may have become one of the 65 percent of former foster youth who are homeless. But thanks to the California Fostering Connections to Success Act (Assembly Bill 12), Smith was able to remain in the foster care system and receive services and support until age 20.

"[Without AB 12] I wouldn't have all the opportunities and help I have now," Smith said.

Enacted on Jan. 1, 2012, AB 12 extends foster care to young adults, unless they opt out of the program. Foster youth who choose to remain in foster care after 18, considered non-minor dependents, have a number of living arrangement options. They can live in the home of an approved relative, a non-related extended family member or a legal guardian, in a group home or with a licensed foster family home.

A new housing option through AB 12 is Supervised Independent Living Placement. This can be an apartment with or without a roommate, or a room-and-board living arrangement, such as a college dorm. These placements have to be approved and supervised by the county, and young adults may be able to receive foster care payments directly if they choose this living arrangement.

To qualify for AB 12 youth are expected to meet certain criteria, including working towards a high school diploma or GED, being employed at least 80 hours a month, going to college, or participating in a vocational or employment program.

Smith chose to live with a foster family.

"It's a better fit for me, more of a family-oriented house," he said of his foster home.

Smith is employed at Endless Possibilities Thrift Store and is in the process of deciding which college or technical school to attend. He receives a bevy of services to help him make better choices as an adult, from one-on-one  counseling from his Creative Alternatives social worker, to financial classes, and employment placement through the Workforce Alliance.

Creative Alternatives is one of the foster care agencies in Stanislaus County who serve young adults through AB12. The Turlock agency currently serves nine youths through AB12, and has 10 more on a waiting list.

"These kids are embracing it more than we expected," said Creative Alternatives' AB12 coordinator, Lisa Jacobs."There is a high need of foster homes for AB12 kids."

Because the AB12 youths are considered non-minor dependents, foster parents have a slightly different role. Shared living agreements help to define expectations and youths are able to spend time alone, and even visit friends or relatives overnight.

"There's more mentoring...and a lot more responsibility on the child now," Jacobs said about foster parenting AB12 youths.

All of this support is towards one goal: improving the outcomes for foster youth.

Creative Alternatives holds an informational meeting on becoming a licensed foster family home from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. every third Thursday of the month at its Turlock office, 2855 Geer Rd. For more information, call 668-9361.