Tiptoeing in the right direction

In mid-May, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to give a small number of youths transitioning out of foster care a basic income. Under the pilot program, the County will provide approximately 72 eligible current and former foster youths $1,000 per month for one year beginning in June.

I am grateful that Santa Clara County is paying attention and trying to find solutions to the problems foster youth face. This experiment in universal basic income for foster youth is a tiptoe in the right direction — towards giving young people in the foster care system the help they need to overcome the obstacles facing them upon exiting the system. But it is not enough.

There are some 59,000 children in foster care in California, and their prospects are grim: nationwide, 40% of foster youth experience homelessness within two years of aging out of the system, one in four have PTSD, and more than two-thirds can’t find jobs. And that’s before the COVID-19 pandemic created record unemployment.

Yes, it’s great that Santa Clara County will give some transitional age youth $12,000 over the next year, along with some financial coaching — but only some in-County foster youth who are age 24 are eligible, and even for them, $1,000 per month is not enough to pay market-rate rent on an apartment, and checking in with a mentor every three months is not enough to help an emerging adult who has no family support stay on track.

As Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” So while this step by the County is commendable and much appreciated, to make a real difference we need to work upstream. Let’s put energy towards fixing the systems that put foster youth at such an extreme disadvantage: systems that keep Black and Brown families in poverty and disproportionately fill our foster homes and prisons with their children. Systems that have led to unprecedented income inequality and a housing crisis that imperils the well-being of all who live in our region.

Unity Care has worked for more than 27 years on combating these inequities by providing supportive, affordable housing for foster youth; advocating for unconditional care and cultural proficiency in the foster care system; and offering foster youth consistent, positive adult mentors and role models. We work to give families the tools and resources to care for their children, and to help county social workers better understand the diverse communities they serve. We provide guidance and encouragement to help youth improve their health and pursue their education and employment goals so that they can build a better future.

Join us, and together we can help our community build strong children.

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