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 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.
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 in the first. 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.
By the time it was established as an independent nonprofit in 1999, CYC had solidified its reputation as a model of youth development that blends leadership training with powerful legislative advocacy to transform the California foster care system.
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.
Now headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, with satellite offices in Sacramento, Southern California, and Fresno, CYC is still guided by current and former foster youth at all levels, including our board of directors and staff. Our state office serves as a central hub and source of training and support for our 42 chapters and subchapters, now 900-members strong, in counties throughout California.
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.
Coming Together: California Youth Connection and Foster Youth in Action
As two of the largest youth-led organizations, with 20+ years’ experience, an established national network, and some of the strongest leadership development and advocacy programs available for current and former foster youth, CYC and FYA have decided to join forces, knowing that our impact can only be greater if working together.
Coming together will strengthen both organizations, better support our member networks, and strengthen our capacity, while streamlining our operations. We see this as a positive step towards our shared vision and commitment to young people in foster care.
Conversations to explore a possible merger started well over a year ago, at FYA’s suggestion. CYC welcomed the opportunity to explore possibilities, and in recent months, both organizations have engaged deeply in a due diligence process. CYC and FYA leadership, staff, members and Board see this as a positive step towards our shared vision and commitment to young people in foster care.