- Associated Press - Monday, September 29, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Gov. Jerry Brown announced Monday that he signed a package of bills to help foster children in California by encouraging early placement with relatives and extending support to finish college.

Among the bills Brown announced signing is AB1658 by Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles. The bill is designed to protect foster youth from identity theft by requiring county child welfare agencies to request credit reports for children 16 years and older.

AB1761 by Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, encourages social workers to keep children with relatives when they enter the foster care system. Hall’s office said the current law is not clear about placing abused and neglected children with a relative during the initial stages of an investigation. Such a move could help children avoid having to be placed in shelters or group homes.

According to the Department of Social Services, there are currently 62,545 children in foster care in California.

That figure is down from more than 100,000 in 2000, according to kidsdata.org, a program of the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. The decline has been attributed to policies that emphasize keeping families together and finding permanent placement.

SB1252 by Sen. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, allows counties to extend housing to foster youth up to age 25 for up to three years if they are completing college. The current eligibility cut-off age is 24 for up to two years, according to the senator’s office.

The Stuart Foundation, a San Francisco-based trust dedicated to the development of children and youth, found that 70 percent of foster children expressed interest in attending college but only 10 percent enroll. Just a projected 3 percent would graduate with a degree.

Brown also signed bills that would help homeless youth.

One bill, AB1733 by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, allows a homeless person to obtain an identification card from the Department of Motor Vehicles without a fee.

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