My goal, through Fostering Media Connections, is to use pinpointed media coverage to 1) drive political will behind reform to the foster care system and 2) draw public attention to the existent solutions for fixing what is wrong with the system.
There are many ways to accomplish this, and FMC’s strategy is predicated on dexterity and rapid response to opportunity. Last week we had a chance to build on pinpointed media coverage we had placed to push forward California Assembly Bill 12, which would extend foster care to age 21 and vastly improve outcomes for the 4,500 foster youth who “age out” of care in California every year.
In early May, Eytan and I visited San Francisco State University’s Guardian Scholar’s Program. In the course of shooting footage and compiling stories on the program at work, we met Sokhom Mao, a former foster youth on the cusp of graduation. FMC interviewed him on camera and I wrote up a synopsis on how housing stability was crucial to his success in graduating from college. In my synopsis, I made the link between Sokhom’s personal narrative and the boon a law like AB12 would provide for thousands of young people like him clear.
Shortly thereafter I met with the News Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle and pitched Sokhom’s story to her. As a result of this meeting, Sokhom’s story appeared on the front page of the SF Chronicle on May 22, the day of his graduation.
As has become customary at the end of every media market, we hosted a Media Market Round Up event in San Francisco in May. We had invited San Francisco 49er Quarter Back Alex Smith, who funds a Guardian Scholar’s Program in San Diego through his Alex Smith Foundation. Alex spoke about the types of support former foster youth need to successfully obtain a degree including housing. Alex’s advocacy struck me, so I asked him if he would travel to Sacramento to meet with lawmakers about extending foster care to 21 through AB12. 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.
On June 22nd, FMC collaborated with the County Welfare Director’s Association, The California Youth Connection and the John Burton Foundation to call a press conference and organize Capitol visits for Smith and Sokhom. Sokhom’s story was among the materials shared with staffers before the visits.
Having Alex and Sokhom at the capitol yielded coverage on the ABC Affilliate in San Francisco, 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 Darrell Steinberg and State Assembly Speaker John Perez, Sokhom and Alex made a strong case for extending care. In every meeting they were met with pledges of support. In addition, Alex’s eloquent and forceful testimony during the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on AB12 was well received by the Committee, which moved AB12 on to Appropriations.
I want to thank everyone involved in last Tuesday’s activities. As a journalist it was a great story and as a person who is committed to improving outcomes for foster youth it was a brief victory. AB12, having steamed through the Assembly and steadily progressing through the Senate is close to becoming a reality. With 1/8 of the nation’s foster youth living in California extending care to 21 here would mark a dramatic policy shift and would be felt across the country. With everyone chipping in that will become a reality. And 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.