Our Stories

Foster Youth Becomes Parent, Then Advocates for Others Through New State Law

Junely Merwin and her son

When Junely Merwin entered foster care at age 15, she was already a parent of a 1-month-old boy. Junely was determined not to repeat the cycle.

Foster youth who grew up with abuse or neglect need special help when they have children of their own.

But the statistics facing them are daunting. Children of foster youth are five times more likely to be placed into foster care than children of non-foster youth.

Junely connected with Public Counsel Senior Social Worker Mara Ziegler at a specialized conference for pregnant and parenting teens.

“Being a young parent attending college, raising a child, and soon to be working is a lot on my plate,” said Junely, who is now 19. “I struggle just like any of these other youths in the foster care system.”

Ziegler has provided her with direct support and guidance and has also connected her to advocates with needed expertise. 

Pregnant and parenting teens living in foster care confront unique challenges which require specialized resources, support and services to help them parent their young children successfully and move toward independence. 

For example, Junely receives subsidized child care for study time while she is in college. But when she moved to her current independent living placement and changed child care providers, she was incorrectly told she no longer qualified. Ziegler connected Junely to Public Counsel’s Early Care and Education Project staff who were able to fix the mistake.

Junely in Sacramento for SB 528This year Junely traveled to Sacramento to speak in support of Senate Bill 528. SB 528 encourages counties to conduct specialized conferences for pregnant and parenting foster youth, like the one where she met Ziegler.

“When I first entered this conference, I didn’t imagine I would get the support I have now,” Junely told legislators. “I feel that it’s important to inform young parents about these existing services before it’s too late because sometimes they can miss out on an opportunity.”

Because of Junely’s efforts and the work of other parenting foster youth, Governor Brown signed SB 528 on September 23.

SB 528 will also ensure there is timely, accurate information about the number of parenting youth in foster care, and will clarify that county child welfare agencies are authorized to provide age-appropriate information about reproductive health.

"Junely is a shining example of how with a little guidance, teen parents can become nurturing parents and productive young adults,” said Public Counsel’s Ziegler. “Ensuring that these vulnerable youth have stable placements, health care, access to appropriate child development information and that they are able to remain in school can profoundly affect the future of teens in care and their children.” 

“I have Mara to call and know that she will do anything in her power to connect me with the right people to have my needs met,” said Junely. “Youth such as myself need help and support. I want to see a brighter future in the foster care system.”