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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
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
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
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.