How Can We Support Our Transitional Age Foster Youth (TAY)?

By Tunisia Nelson, Cal State Long Beach Alumni, MSW, ASW

Most children have parents who monitor their academic performances, check their attendance, enroll them in appropriate classes or even attend parent teacher conferences. Parents generally advocate and make sure that their children receive a quality education. When these children are treated unfairly or do not receive appropriate educational opportunities, then parents step in.

Unfortunately this isn’t necessarily the case with the youth in the foster care system. Sometimes they do not have educational advocates and even when they do, it is usually the parents who had failed them previously. As a consequence of this lack of advocating, they usually do not receive the educational opportunities that they need to succeed in high school. For this reason there are different policies in place to support this breach in foster youth educational rights.

AB 12 and AB 216 are pieces of legislation that allow youth to continue in DCFS and attend school for a decreased amount of time. These policies have been beneficial in some ways, but in other ways they are lacking. They do not address the dropout rate of youth and they do not address the recidivism rate of older foster youth. Based on these two things one can conclude that the youth are not as ready as they are presented to be to exit the system.

So, how can we really help? I propose we provide them with a group they are able to stay in for a complete year that would address support, building healthy relationships, study skills, obtaining records, job skills, money management and health care options.

This group would serve as a catalyst to building self-esteem and tackling a myriad of subjects in order to create a holistic approach in preparing these youth for adulthood. AB 12 California Fostering Connections to Success Act enables foster youth to continue in the Department of Children and Family Services until age 20 and the AB 216 bill, which states that if a foster youth has moved either placement or homes in their junior or senior year of high school then they are no longer bound to graduation requirements of the local school district.

According to recent data, approximately 450,000 children were in foster care as of September 30, 2011. Approximately 80,000 were between the ages of 15 to 18 and another 3,639 were 19 years of age. This instability leads to a generation of lost youth who are not fully equipped to live independently by age 18 (Hines et. al., 2005).

Due to these deplorable outcomes, AB 12 was enacted to allow youth to stay in DCFS care up until age 20. The hope is that the additional years of service would allow them to gain necessary skills to live as a fully functioning adult.

There are more than 70,000 foster children in California and most do not receive the education that they need. They are frequently bounced from home to home and school to school. This leads to lapses in education, missing credits, incomplete records, enrollment in inappropriate classes, and disproportionately funneled into inappropriate schools. As a result, many foster youth fall below grade level, drop out of school, and are less likely to attend a traditional four-year college.

The AB 216 bill is an example of the legislation geared toward this. AB 216 states that if a foster youth has changed school districts in their junior or senior year of high school, then they are no longer bound to graduation requirements of the local school district.[This repeats nearly verbatim information from 5 paragraphs above—gl]

If a student chooses to complete the average amount of credits all other high school students have to complete, despite being behind credits, it would allow for them to be able to stay in school a fifth year. This allows the youth to be responsible only for meeting state requirements to graduate high school. Good things about this bill are that it allows foster youth to graduate in a timely manner, and allows them to either enter the workforce or continue on to a community college. The limit of this bill is that it does not follow the a-g requirements so a foster youth would not be able to go directly to a traditional four year college. This means that all foster youth who choose to further their education would be funneled into an already congested community college system. It allows foster youth not only to enter an impacted system but also to enter unprepared, and succumb to the low expectations that others already hold for them.

This policy is pretty much based on a case by case basis. The foster youth or governing bodies cannot request that foster youth change districts in order to utilize this bill. Youth in this position also need to learn how to study and do school work. An unfortunate truth is many youth are pushed through the school system not knowing the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. Students who start college realize fairly soon that they are behind in skills and are discouraged from continuing on. What if a group of peers could help these students learn applicable skills for college, such as how to take notes, how to study, where to find office hours, how to write a professional email, etc.?

These skills will allow them to at least have a foundation when school initially starts and if they are introduced to resources on campus it is more likely that they will flourish. Positive feedback from these skills will allow them to feel more confident and build their self-esteem which is also a driving force in the ability of one to believe that they can get things done.

Foster youth generally have a hard time receiving fair and appropriate educational opportunities. Luckily, the state government has acknowledged this and has implemented plans to support the foster youth in achieving these goals. AB 12 and 216 allow foster youth to complete their education in a timely manner. These bills are definitely not perfect legislation and that is why to make sure these youth are able to prosper in life we need to provide them with additional support.


Ahrens, K. R., DuBois, D. L., Richardson, L. P., Fan, M. & Lozano, P. (2008). Youth in Foster Care with Adult Mentors during Adolescence have Improved Adult Outcomes. Pediatrics. 121(2). Retrieved from doi: 10.1542

Applegate, J. & Shapiro, J. (2005). Neurobiology for Clinical Social Work: Theory and Practice. New York, NY: Norton.

Assembly Bill 216 (2011-2012 Reg. Session) Section 5 retrieved Nov. 15, 2014.

Hines, A., Merdinger, J., Wyatt, P. (2005) Former Foster Youth Attending College: Resilience and the Transition to Young Adulthood. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 75(3) 381–394. Retrieved from doi.

Tierney, J. P., Grossman, J. B. & Resch, N. L. (2000). Making a Difference: An Impact Study on Big Brothers Big Sisters. Publication by Public/Private Ventures. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2012). The AFCARS Report. Retrieved