Justin Saejao went to the Capitol in Sacramento with a message. At just nineteen years old, Saejao was asked to testify in April before several Senators about his Extended Foster Care experience participating in the Transitional Housing Program - Foster Care - Plus (THP-FC-Plus) through Sacramento County Health and Human Services.
The Program, which began in 2001, extends foster benefits to young adults until the age of 21 years. The intent is to provide supportive housing while teaching living skills so that participants achieve self-sufficiency.
According to a Sacramento organization that serves young adults participating in THP-FC-Plus – Aspiranet – the youth in THP-FC-Plus make measurable gains in employment, education, health and housing stability. Equally important, their rates of criminal involvement are markedly lower than their peers.
Because of the program, the young adults are able to meet once-per-week with a life coach. They receive mentoring and they learn skills such as budgeting and job-readiness.
When Saejao share his experiences before Senators, he found more than what he expected. He was nervous at first, when he began to speak; but, when he fully realized that he had the attention of policy-makers, his nervousness turned to “exhilarating,” he explained. “The fact that I had the opportunity to speak to people in such high positions, [it created]… amazing nervousness.”
Saejao is currently working two jobs and is volunteering as a teacher of martial arts. But, his Capitol experience has sprouted an idea for a career path – he is now considering a political career advocating for foster youth.
When asked to give advice for foster parents, Saejao advised parents to be patient because, after children have been removed from a home, it takes a while to trust. “They feel they are not wanted so you just have to work with a kid like that.” He elaborated, “Even a friend won’t tell you all their secrets at first. It takes time.”
His advice to foster youth is, “Use foster care to your advantage. Stay out of trouble. As long as you stay out of trouble, you will end up somewhere better.”
Erika Adams, an Extended Foster Care social worker for Sacramento County who meets monthly with Saejao, expressed, “Justin has this wonderful opportunity to grow and to keep moving forward. I am excited that support and stability can transform young adults into confident and self-determined community members.”
You never know – Saejao may become one of the most remarkable advocates for foster youth.
If you are interested in fostering a child, call 916-875-5543. Foster parent/resource family orientations are held once per month from 6-9 p.m. on rotating weekdays at 3701 Branch Center Road, Sacramento, CA 95826.