The Richmond Police Department held its first annual Foster Youth Conference on Saturday at the LaVonya Dejean Middle School on Macdonald Avenue. About 100 foster youth, foster parents, Richmond police officers, staff from West County Children and Family Services and community members filled the multipurpose room early in the morning for a day full of workshops to promote community involvement and provide resources needed by children and teens in foster care.
“There are caring adults here who understand that it is our responsibility to be partners and our responsibility to give young people the tools to succeed,” West County Supervisor John Gioia told the crowd at the start of the day. “I think that is what this is really about.”
Detective Delon Jackson of the Richmond Police Department’s Youth Crimes Unit helped organize the event, and said it was the first of its kind in Richmond. The idea for a day focused on foster youth grew from a realization that the department did not engage with them enough, he said, and police hoped the event would help to bridge the gap between the city’s young people and its police officers.
“A lot of kids have that misconception about police, that they’re overbearing, they’re too rough, they don’t understand us,” Jackson said. “This right here is letting them know that it’s not like that. We’re here to work with you. We’re here to hear you out and understand what you’re going through, and trying to get you the resources you need for what you’re going through.”
The day centered on a series of workshops including classes on money management, parenting for young adults, and dating and relationships. Creative types were also offered a chance to learn music theory, while others participated in Zumba, a dance fitness program, or had their hair and makeup styled at a makeshift beauty salon set up by students from the Marinello Schools of Beauty. The police conducted a survey of local foster youth last fall to determine the workshop topics, Jackson said.
Local vendors also offered their services with information booths that lined the middle school’s multipurpose room. Attendees could stop by for information about adult education in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, becoming a police officer with the RPD, or the process of becoming a foster parent through Alameda County Social Services.
The social services booth also provided information about AB 12, legislation passed by the state effective January 1 of last year, which provides foster youth the opportunity to remain in the foster care system after they turn 18. Under previous law, foster youth were “emancipated out” of care and forced to start life on their own once they turned 18 or graduated from high school, said Felicia Brown, a recruiter with Alameda County Social Services.
The new legislation gives them a chance to stay in foster care for several more years in order to receive continued support through college or a new working life, she said. “That’s really important, that we have stability for those youth while they’re transitioning to adulthood,” Brown said.
Still, some young people prefer a life of early independence, like Ana Carranza, 19, a former foster youth and college student who has been living on her own since she turned 17. “I learned everything on my own,” she said. “I didn’t have nobody really teaching me anything, but that made me who I am now.” Carranza said that she looked forward to using the day’s event to gather more information about healthy living and financial management.
Members of the Richmond Police Department hope that providing a day of resources and support for making important life decisions will help alleviate the unique stresses that often burden foster youth, like navigating life in a group home, financing an education or confusion over where they fit in the system once they reach early adulthood.
But, as Jackson put it, the day was also a chance for the young people to laugh and have fun. Walking through a group of teens tossing a football in the middle school quad, Jackson made his way toward the buzz and activity of the multipurpose room. “This day is about them,” he said.