San Jose legislator wants to raise foster age
Former foster youth and Hub founder Dontae Lartigue is also involved in the design of the new Parkmoor facility. Photo courtesy of Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

    Foster youth could get an additional five years of county support under a newly-introduced state bill.

    Senate Bill 9, introduced by state Sen. Dave Cortese in December, would raise the age limit of young adults who are terming out of the foster care system from age 21 to 26. While the proposed five-year extension is helpful, advocates said foster youth also need long-term housing and career support to succeed.

    The bill encourages counties to opt into expanding services to age 26. Cortese said counties can opt-out if they have sufficient resources for foster adults between the ages of 22 and 26, or their foster adult population is small. Funding would come from the state to support the expansion of services through age 26, such as staffing for social services.

    The current system supports this demographic until age 21 providing funds that cover basic needs such as food and health care. These young adults are also required to be working toward an educational degree or employment to remain in the system until age 21.

    Razing the Bar CEO Dontae Lartigue said helping those in the foster care system navigate those resources is key. Lartigue left foster care when it was still capped at age 18. He struggled to access health care and only booked his first doctor’s appointment two years later, he said. Lartigue, who co-founded the nonprofit to support the next generation of foster youth, said providing mentorship, guidance and housing assistance is pivotal.

    “I had this tooth that was killing me and had to get a root canal. But at the end of the day, I didn’t know how to do those things,” Lartigue, 32, told San José Spotlight. “No one taught me.”

    Cortese said SB 9 would make a significant difference in the lives of young adults who have little to no family or support systems.

    “This is a population who are completely dependent on support of what most people would consider to be family or extended family,” Cortese told San José Spotlight. “The government serves as the surrogate family. We’re the ones responsible.”

    Lartigue said housing is a critical factor for foster youth entering adulthood, especially as more data reveals this group is overrepresented among the homeless population. San Jose has the highest number of unhoused young adults per capita among the nation’s largest cities.

    “The quicker we get young people efficient, affordable, stable housing, the more we can actually build them into being productive members of society and making sure that they don’t fall through the cracks,” Lartigue told San José Spotlight. “We shouldn’t have a school-to-prison pipeline. And we damn sure shouldn’t have a foster care to homeless pipeline.”

    Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said SB 9 would enhance the county’s work in supporting foster youth.

    The county has already established a first-in-the-nation universal basic income program which provides $1,000 per month to youth transitioning out of the foster care system. It was piloted in 2020 and the program has been extended. The San Jose City Council approved plans for ‘the Hub’ last month, which would provide 40 apartments and a resource center for foster youth or young adults still in the system. If SB 9 passes, decisions on the use of funds should include foster youth input, Ellenberg added.

    “I have no doubt that we’ll be able to offer the support and make good use of the funds,” Ellenberg told San José Spotlight.

    John Hogan, vice president of community relations at Excite Credit Union and a former foster youth nonprofit executive, said career-building resources can also be life-changing.

    “While they’re getting… other levels of support, it has to be, toward what end?” Hogan told San José Spotlight. “Allowing them to launch a career, education and job training, that is super critical.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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