Dozens of young adults age out of the foster care system in Alameda County each year when they turn 21, losing access to resources like a monthly stipend, mental health care, and case management services. This transition, often without familial support, can make it difficult for young people to establish themselves.
A new guaranteed income program for former foster youth in Alameda County hopes to address some of those challenges. Beginning next year, about 90 21-year-olds will receive $1,000 per month over a two-year period. It’s believed to be the first such program designed entirely by former foster youth.
“We feel that we aren’t really brought to the decision-making table a lot,” said Darryl McDavid, who spent 16 years of his childhood in foster care. “We really wanted to show the impact that it can have when you give young people who have actually experienced the challenges that you’re solving the power, resources, and funding to be solutions-oriented.”
About $2.8 million needed to fund the program will come from the Alameda County social services budget over two years. The budget was approved by the Board of Supervisors last week. Supervisor Dave Brown, who was appointed to replace former Supervisor Wilma Chan after she was hit and killed by a driver while walking her dog, initiated the effort.
Unlike some other guaranteed income programs, like Oakland Resilient Families or Stockton SEED, the pilot will not be funded with philanthropy, but with public dollars. Brown added that they are also planning to apply for funding from the state, which has established grants to support guaranteed income programs targeted toward foster youth who are aging out of care.
Several hundred children enter the foster care system each year in Alameda County, most often because they have been abused or neglected by their parents or guardians.
“The foster youth are our children and we have a responsibility, as they transition into adulthood. It’s important for the county to do that,” Brown told The Oaklandside.
Brown felt it was important that the Alameda County program be driven by former foster youth themselves, and helped to convene a group of 12 young adults, ranging from 21 to 30 years old, including McDavid. They met twice a month beginning in April to design the pilot.
McDavid, 30, currently works for YearUp, an organization that provides job training to young adults. He was born in Oakland but spent much of his childhood in Hercules, and after transitioning out of foster care he graduated with a business degree from CSU East Bay.
One of the challenges the group faced was overcoming their previous poor experiences with county agencies.
“A lot of us have this very pessimistic view about how the county and state are creating solutions for this population,” McDavid said. “So we had to be very open-minded and not come in with that kind of jaded perspective.”
Xochtil Larios was another one of the group’s leaders. Larios receives housing support from First Place for Youth, an organization that helps young adults transitioning out of the foster care system in California with housing, education, and employment. Larios, 22, spent several of her childhood and teenage years bouncing between the foster care system and juvenile justice system, and was homeless for a time. She said her experiences motivated her to want to improve things for foster youth younger than her.
“This is all a calling to me since I’ve been homeless and impacted by the system,” she told The Oaklandside. “They say, ‘Oh, you’re a product of your environment,” but I’m someone who is constantly surviving and trying to really make the best out of life. I knew that I was going to stick to my calling and elevate young people’s voices.”
The group studied other projects like Stockton’s, which gave 125 residents $500 a month for two years. Recipients had more stability, were able to find employment, and had less anxiety and depression, an analysis showed. They also looked at Santa Clara County, which began a guaranteed income project specifically for former foster youth in 2020. Last year, the program was extended for an additional six months.
The Alameda County group is still working through exactly how it will evaluate the success of the program. McDavid added that they are hesitant to put strict parameters about what “success” looks like, and won’t be tracking how the young adults are spending the cash.
But they are hopeful that the monthly payments will help young people offset the cost of living in the Bay Area. The 2022 homeless point-in-time count in Alameda County found that about 14% of those experiencing homelessness had spent time in foster care. McDavid, who is from Oakland, said over the last seven years, he’s seen most of his family displaced to Stockton or Sacramento.
“Ultimately, we want to see them move closer to self-sufficiency and independence. We feel like a lot of the systems that are built to support this population encourage dependence on the system, a system that we know has these cut-offs, and will not be around forever,” McDavid said. “I want to see these young adults have the option of staying in Oakland, staying in the Bay Area, and starting and building a life for themselves.”