PRESS RELEASE: Sierra Bill Aims to Put Youth in Foster Care on Stronger Track for Success
For Immediate Release
January 28, 2021
PHOENIX – The statistics surrounding Arizona foster children after they leave state care at age 18 are stark. Fewer than half find employment, only one in 10 attend college and even fewer graduate, one in five become homeless, and far too many experience post-traumatic stress and get into trouble with the law.
Representative Lorenzo Sierra and foster care advocates believe a simple change to Arizona law could help reverse those statistics. On Wednesday Sierra proposed a bill to make it easier for kids to stay in the foster system beyond age 18 until they turn 21, which would put more former foster children on a path for success. If passed, Sierra's House Bill 2728 would automatically allow young people to stay in the foster system until they turn 21, unless they opt out when they turn 18. Currently foster children are expelled from the system at age 18 and have to take steps to opt back in, a decision too few make, Sierra said.
"We've found that so many kids who age out of the foster care system end up homeless or in the correctional system," said Sierra, D-Avondale. "We want to give them a bridge to be able to get into adulthood productively. We hope this bill will give them the extra lifeline they need."
The bill was inspired by the work of Naketa Ross, a certified clinical trauma specialist who grew up in foster care and now serves on the Phoenix Union High School Governing Board. Ross first proposed the change to Arizona law in her December 2020, white paper "From Foster Care to Resilience: Saving Lives by Changing the Foster Care Model" and in the opinion pages of The Arizona Republic.
"We want the structure to remain the same where the youth’s voice is centered, but the approach would be different," said Ross, who founded the non-profit Resilient Me to help foster youth. "The State would agree to and offer partnership and support to the young adults during this critical development stage. If youth do not want extended assistance they can decline. And if in the future before the age of 21, they change their minds, they could still come back."