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Mark My Word
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Foster Care Youth Initiatives to Become Effective January 1st

by Mark Leno
Assemblyman, 13th District
From Sacramento and Your Neighborhood

Greetings Neighbors!  Over the course of the 2005 legislative session, one of my proudest moments was shepherding through my package of foster care youth initiatives into law.  These four pieces of legislation will help to provide our foster youth with the stability they need to become successful citizens.  I would like to share with you some of the changes these new laws will bring when they become effective on January 1st.

The first bill, AB 519, addresses the problem of “legal orphans” -- children who have been freed for adoption, but have yet to be adopted.  These children, separated from parents who may have abused or neglected them, also suffer the permanent loss of their legal relationships to grandparents, siblings, and other relatives. Roughly one in six children in foster care for more than three years falls into this category.  And under previous law, juvenile courts had no power to set aside, change, or modify an order terminating parental rights once made -- even when all parties agreed that there had been a material change of circumstances in which it was now in the child’s best interest to have a parental relationship restored.

AB 519 allows legally-orphaned children, through their court-appointed dependency attorneys, to petition the court to restore parental rights if, after the passage of at least three years, they can show that they are no longer likely to be adopted and that reinstatement of parental rights would be in their best interest.

The second bill, AB 1412, will help ensure that, eventually, no child will be emancipated from the foster youth system without a loving connection to a committed adult  -- a top-priority bill sponsored by the San Francisco-based California Youth Connection, an organization of current and former foster youth working for positive change in the foster care system. Currently, social workers are required to ask foster youth over the age of 10 who have been placed in group homes for periods longer than six months about important relationships they may have with caring adults, and work to maintain those relationships during the youth’s time in foster care..  This bill sets forth an orderly phase-in that will eventually extend this requirement to maintain important adult relationships for every foster youth over the age of 10, regardless of her/his foster care placement.

This new law will help foster youth maintain relationships with committed adults to help them through the bad times, provide guidance and celebrate their successes.  Foster youth point to the need for a “forever family” as their most critical need as they age out of foster care and begin life on their own.  

The third bill, AB 1261 recognizes the importance of stability and continuity of school placement in the success of foster youths’ educational outcomes.  Frequent placement moves, delays and difficulties in transferring educational records, and the general upheaval associated with family crises make it difficult for foster youth to keep up and do well in school.  This bill, in conjunction with a landmark 2003 law, clarifies that foster children have the right to remain in their school of origin until the end of the school year and requires that school records be immediately transferred and granted immediate enrollment even if there are outstanding fees, fines, textbooks or other items due to the school last attended.  While a good education is critical to every child’s successful transition to adulthood, it is especially true for children who spend long periods of their childhood in foster care.

Finally, pursuant to the passage of ACR 85, the State of California proclaimed last month, November 2005, to be Court Adoption and Permanency Month, in which California’s courts and local communities showcased their joint efforts to decrease the number of children waiting for permanent, safe homes and families.

It is my hope that these new laws will help strengthen our foster youth system.  But it is not only foster youth who need our care and guidance   

That is why I hosted our 2nd Annual Young Women’s Conference, “Own It:  Your Body, Mind and Life” on October 21st, meant to give our City’s young high-school women the opportunity to share personal struggles and common goals.  One hundred young women from nine of our area high schools and youth centers took part in the conference.  The event was co-sponsored with Planned Parenthood Golden Gate (PPGG) and featured such speakers as District Attorney Kamala Harris, Community Youth Center’s Sarah Wan, PPGG’s Dian Harrison, African-American Art Culture Complex’s London Breed, Asian Women’s Shelter’s Beckie Masaki, CHALK’s Taneika Jones, and the Center for Young Women’s Development’s Marlene Sanchez.  Additionally, this month I will host our 2nd Bi-Annual Young Men’s Conference.

Our young people are truly our greatest resource, and we must do everything we can to give them what they need to thrive.  Each of them deserves protection, guidance, resources, understanding and love.  We all have the opportunity to provide these essentials to young people in one way or another.  It’s our job to seek out those opportunities.

If you would like more information about my package of foster youth laws that will take effect this January, or on my local youth conferences, please feel free to contact my office here in San Francisco, 415-557-3013, or email me directly at

Bio & Past Articles

Past Articles

Betty's List 'Mark My Word'
Columnist Assemblyman Mark Leno

Assemblyman Mark Leno made history in November 2002 when he was elected as one of the first openly gay men to the California State Assembly, representing District 13, the eastern portion of San Francisco. He currently serves as Chair of the Public Safety Committee, one of only four freshman legislators appointed to Chair a policy committee in their first year. He also serves on the Appropriations, Local Government, and Revenue & Taxation Committees and is the Chair of Select Committees on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LBGT) Families and Childhood Obesity & Related Diabetes.

A native of Wisconsin, Leno attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, then went on to become valedictorian of his graduating class at the American College of Jerusalem, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts Degree. Leno also spent two years in Rabbinical Studies at Hebrew Union College in New York.

Prior to his election to the State Assembly, Assemblyman Leno served as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from April 1998 to December 2002. He authored landmark legislation in the areas of affordable housing, universal health care for children, solar energy, late night entertainment, bond oversight, small business services, City CarShare, medical cannabis, equal access to services, and LGBT civil rights.

Leno is the owner of Budget Signs, Inc., a small business he founded in 1978 and operated with his life partner, Douglas Jackson. Together the two entrepreneurs steadily grew their sign business until Jackson passed away from complications relating to AIDS/HIV in 1990. This deep loss would not deter Leno. Instead, he redoubled his efforts in community service.

He has served on the boards of many local and national organizations including the LGBT Community Center Project, Haight Ashbury Community Services, the American Jewish Congress, Mobilization Against AIDS, and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. He is the recipient of the 1995 Small Business Owner of the Year Award from the Small Business Network, the 1995 Hormel Community Service Award from the Human Rights Campaign and the James R. Sylla Award from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

Outside of his capacity as an elected official, Leno has been a tireless supporter of nonprofit organizations in San Francisco, frequently appearing to show support at events and lending a hand wherever possible. He was a statewide spokesman for the No on Prop 22 Campaign (the Knight Initiative) and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in August 2000.