Giving foster youth legal know-how to succeed
Life as an independent adult can be tough in cities like Los Angeles, where three minimum wage jobs aren’t enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment.
For those coming out of foster care, it’s an even more uphill battle. Extraordinary Families works to level the playing field with advocacy and direct services.
On April 10, BASTA attorney Magda Madrigal joined legal experts Paul Freese and Jessica Kastner at the nonprofit organization’s Koreatown facility, where they spoke with current and former foster youth about housing, criminal and employment law — with a focus on scenarios common to everyday life. Sarah Boone, Extraordinary Families CEO, said foster youth face obstacles above and beyond what most people encounter.
“By virtue of being in foster care, often they have been victims of abuse and neglect,” Boone said. “It’s not uncommon for a young adult to have been in 10 or 20 different foster or group homes — and more schools than they can count.”
Events like Tuesday’s presentation — along with things like mental and physical health care, education and job training — give them the skills they need to overcome past traumas and thrive, she said. When it comes to having a place to live, the youth must deal with L.A.’s notorious lack of affordable housing. Getting evicted leads to dire consequences, such as homelessness or couch surfing. The best way to solve such problems is to keep them from happening in the first place, Boone said. That’s where a lawyer can help.
BASTA attorney Magda Madrigal reviewed the various types of legal notices tenants get from landlords, from 3-day notices to pay rent to unlawful detainers (evictions). She underscored the pitfalls of dealing with self-interested or unscrupulous landlords.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” she said. “A lot of fear, a lot of intimidation, a lot of misconceptions.”Madrigal noted that California and its cities have enacted legal protections such as rent control to protect tenants. She outlined steps people can take to protect their rights, including reporting problems to government agencies and seeking legal assistance from nonprofits. Above all, she said, it’s important to get advice when dealing with unfair practices or getting served with a legal notice.
Paul Freese, formerly of Public Counsel and Neighborhood Legal Services, spoke about what to do in situations with criminal law implications. When they see police misconduct, he said, it’s best to not interfere, but to record the incident with a smartphone or bear witness. With something as simple a parking ticket, he advised being proactive, and related a personal story about a time a police officer dropped a traffic ticket simply he contested it in person.
“Never underestimate the human factor,” Freese said. “As with anything in life, just showing up is the first step toward being successful and having your voice heard.” It also pays to be nice, he added. “If you are nasty to them, they will do everything they can to get you convicted.”Jessica Kastner of Equity Law Advocates, Inc., stressed the importance of asking for help as soon as possible when facing potential discrimination at the workplace.
“If something feels wrong to you, reach out to somebody who knows that area of law, and who can help you before it becomes a huge problem,” she said.
A helping hand and the confidence to seek it out are a recipe for success, says Sarah Boone. Past trauma can act as a psychological barrier to doing that, so it’s important to make things convenient.
“The perfect world for our clientele would be that society would take good enough care of our kids in the first place, but I can’t wave a magic wand and make that happen,” said Boone. “Short of that, we can provide that trauma-informed care, that support, that understanding that they need to mitigate self-defeating thoughts.”
Image: Foster youth attend an educational session at UCLA . | Photo via chronicleofsocialchange.org.