On the Road with Fostering
Media Connections

Northern California

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California stands at a crossroads. The budget crisis threatens to degrade decades of improvement to the state's foster care system, while California simultaneously stands poised to extend foster care to age 21.

Fostering Media Connections' (FMC) stated goal is to speed the implementation of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008. With California--home to one-eighth of the nation's foster children--on the cusp of implementing extension of care as proscribed by the federal law, I saw a critical moment to act. To help push through California's Fostering Connections Act (AB12), I developed a strategy that would leverage pinpointed media coverage FMC had placed, the fame and dedication of an NFL quarterback, and the hard work of advocacy groups.

In early May, FMC visited San Francisco State University's Guardian Scholars Program, which supports foster youth through college. We met Sokhom Mao, a former foster youth weeks away from graduation. We interviewed him on camera and I wrote a synopsis on how housing stability was crucial to his success in graduating. Shortly thereafter, I met with the News Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle and pitched Sokhom's story to her. On the day of his graduation, Sokhom's story appeared on the front page of the Chronicle.

Former foster youth Sokhom Mao meets State Senator Darnell Steinberg during a day of advocacy for extending care to age 21. San Francisco 49er quarterback Alex Smith and his wife, Elizabeth, look on.

San Francisco 49er Quarterback Alex Smith, who funds a Guardian Scholars Program in San Diego, attended our Media Market Round Up event in San Francisco. Smith spoke about the types of support former foster youth need to successfully obtain a degree, including year round housing. I asked Smith if he would travel to Sacramento to meet with lawmakers about extending foster care to 21. I also invited Sokhom--their combined argument being that housing stability is the primary obstacle to foster youth starting and completing a four-year degree.

In late June, FMC collaborated with the County Welfare Director's Association, The California Youth Connection, and the John Burton Foundation to call a press conference in Sacramento and organize Capitol visits for Smith and Sokhom. Sokhom's story in the Chronicle was among the materials shared with staffers before the visits.

Having Alex and Sokhom at the Capitol yielded coverage on the ABC Affiliate in San Francisco, Univision, KFBK Radio, the Bakersfield Californian, and the Sacramento Bee, and attracted a long bank of TV cameras. In meetings with Republican State Senator Tony Strickland, Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg, and Assembly Speaker John Perez, Sokhom and Alex made a strong case for extending care. In every meeting they were met with pledges of support. Alex's eloquent and forceful testimony during the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on AB12 was well received and AB12 moved on to Appropriations.

As a journalist it was a great story, and as a person committed to improving outcomes for foster youth, it was a brief victory. AB12 is close to becoming a reality; its passage would be felt across the country. In the face of buckling budgets and misgivings about our collective future, we would have a little light--a glimmer of the promise our future can and must hold.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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