SACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today announced he has signed legislation to improve the lives of children and youth in California’s foster care system including AB 12 by Assemblymember Jim Beall (D-San Jose) and Assemblymember Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) to extend transitional foster care services to eligible youth between 18 and 21 years of age.

“Our foster care youth deserve every opportunity to succeed in life, and extending foster benefits and services through age 21 will help better equip them with the necessary tools,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “AB 12 will ensure our foster youth have access to important resources as they transition into adulthood. I applaud Assemblymembers Bass and Beall for working across the aisle and getting this important legislation passed.”

Studies have shown that former foster youth are less likely to complete high school, attend college, or be employed, and are at a higher risk for becoming homeless, arrested or incarcerated. AB 12 aims to reduce this correlation by providing foster youth between the age of 18 and 21 a better support system to stay in school and obtain employment. In addition to continuing foster care services to this age group, the legislation allows California to take advantage of federal funding through participation in kinship guardianship assistance payments. California was one of the first states to establish the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Payment program to provide financial assistance for children that are placed under legal guardianship with a relative and, now under this legislation, federal funding will be available to support these payments.

In addition to signing AB 12, Governor Schwarzenegger today announced he signed the following six bills to protect and enhance the benefits and services available to California’s foster youth:

AB 743 by Assemblymember Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) to help keep siblings together in the foster care system. The bill clearly defines a required timeframe of ten days that the child welfare system must notify the child’s attorney before a planned separation of siblings.

AB 1933 by Assemblymember Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) to allow foster children to continue attending their school of origin and, if applicable, secondary schools in the same attendance area, when placed with a family in a different neighborhood.

SB 1353 by Senator Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) to require consideration of the proximity to the school in which a child is enrolled at the time of placement in foster care is one indicator of the best interests of the child with respect to educational stability.

SB 654 by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) to expand eligibility for Independent Living Program (ILP) services to youth who are former dependents of the juvenile court placed with nonrelated legal guardians and are receiving permanent placement services, regardless of the age at which dependency was dismissed, but only if the youth’s guardianship was ordered after his or her eighth birthday. This allows some former foster youth who left foster care prior to aging out to later seek ILP services, until age 20.

AB 1905 by Assemblymember Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) to ensure continued approval and payments for foster youth relative or extended family member caregivers, pending the annual reassessment visit.

AB 1758 by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) to add nonrelative extended family members to the list of family members and guardians eligible for foster care wraparound services, and allows certain dependent or ward categorically eligible foster youth to remain eligible for Medi-Cal.