In 1988, when the child welfare policies that defined their lives had long been developed without them, a small group of foster youth decided to speak up. The youth and supporters who founded California Youth Connection (CYC) knew firsthand that far too many youth were exiting foster care at 18 with no safe place to go and little if any chance of going to college or maintaining employment. Determined to change these outcomes for generations of foster youth, they convened their peers to educate policymakers and advocate for the needs of youth in care.
Since our founding in 1988, the foster care system in California has been transformed, and so too have the thousands of foster youth who have joined CYC, becoming confident, effective advocates for themselves and generations of foster youth. Through CYC, youth have gained job skills, education and career connections, and most importantly, a community of peers. Our work has resulted in the passage of dozens of new laws that have profoundly improved the lives of the 60,000 children and youth in California’s foster care system.
Beginning as an all-volunteer group of current and former foster youth ages 14-24 and a few adult supporters, CYC developed five local chapters. Youth met with leaders from the California Department of Social Services to inform them about concerns related to their care.
Over the next decade, CYC gained increasing visibility and recognition, expanding to 15 chapters throughout the state. Working in collaboration with local agencies serving transition age youth, CYC began establishing and strengthening networks with state policymakers. In 1992, the first piece of CYC sponsored legislation passed and was signed into law, making the process of obtaining a driver’s license more equitable for foster youth by allowing social workers or probation officers (in addition to parents and guardians) to sign their driver license applications.
Since then, CYC has created and refined a sophisticated system of youth-led policy development, securing passage of dozens of additional laws, and helped implement countless local and statewide child welfare policies.
We are proud to have led a fundamental paradigm shift in child welfare policy in California and beyond, placing foster youth voice at the center of policymaking for the first time in history.