Amy Louttit (3L) made a return trip to Sacramento to once again testify successfully on legislation that affects homeless children in California. She was there representing not only her work with the San Diego Unaccompanied Youth Task Force, but also as a Board Member of TJSL's Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) Chapter.
Louttit was first in Sacramento in early April, testifying on behalf of three bills benefitting homeless youth, and all three of the measures were passed in committee. (See the Story)
This time, Louttit testified against SB 312 on Wednesday April 24, in the California Senate Education Committee. SB 312, which sought to restrict the age at which students may leave their schools without parental consent (the bill’s sponsor suggested 16 and older only) in order to obtain confidential medical services. This would have left students ages 12 to 15, who have a statutory right to consent to the services themselves, with no reasonable avenue to obtain such services.
Confidential Medical Services (CMS) include: Mental health counseling; Treatment/prevention of pregnancy; Testing and treatment of infectious, contagious and communicable diseases (including STD's); Medical care required due to rape or sexual assault; and the diagnosis and treatment of alcohol and drug related problems. “There are many situations in which vulnerable adolescents simply cannot confide in a parent/ guardian,” according to Louttit. “The parent may have been the source of abuse in the adolescent’s life. Sometimes the parent refuses to accept or acknowledge the adolescent is suffering and needs professional help with a problem. It may also be the case that adolescents fear retaliation from the parent/guardian if they were to bring up sensitive medical issues. These same situations apply to ‘unaccompanied youth’ in regard to the person giving them room and board, except that some unaccompanied youth have the additional barrier of not having an adult offering them shelter and thus, have no one to give consent. “The way these situations play out include a vast array of barriers to services including: a teen identifying as LGBT who seeks mental health services due to bullying, but has not come out to his/her parents; an unaccompanied youth practicing ‘survival sex’ and is seeking sexual abuse counseling; an adolescent who fears he/she is abusing substances and wants help, but fears retaliation for admitting to drug or alcohol use; or an adolescent female who is seeking professional guidance with deciding on a birth control method, but whose parent/guardian’s religion would not support this conversation at home. “These barriers result in minors choosing not to seek care for sensitive, confidential services; this results in life-altering, or potentially life-threatening, consequences for the adolescent.” In her testimony, Louttit focused on a few issues: the negative impacts of schools restricting access to these services by clinics becoming overwhelmed when school gets out and because of the rush in the clinics, students are going unseen; Unaccompanied youth, who make up a significant number of youth enrolled in public high schools in California (about 18,000), suffering physical and sexual abuse more frequently and being more likely to utilize services covered by CMS. “Finally, I gave examples of services that kids (ages 12-15) I have worked with personally have left school to use, and the reasons they told me they couldn't turn to their parent for help. I also had Andrea, one of my formerly unaccompanied youth (she's now 18), give me a specific message she wanted the legislators to hear.”
That quote was: “If you take this away, girls that young might think they had an STD, or be pregnant, and not say anything because they can’t get it taken care of on their own. That is the type of thing that will change a kid’s future. It’s better to let them talk to a trusted professional than no one at all!”
After the testimony was finished, the committee voted against SB 213 5-3. “I feel really fantastic about defeating this bill! It also felt really great to be sitting next to Valerie Small-Navarro of the ACLU's California Legislative chapter and to have so many health care advocates I respect very much come up and support my opposition to the bill after I spoke! Not only is it important for homeless youth to have access to these services, but it is really important for ALL youth to have the option available to them.
Even if the only reason for not the youth addressing the parent directly is because he/she is too embarrassed, as Andrea, the formerly unaccompanied youth put it so wonderfully, ‘It is better to let them talk to a trusted professional than no one at all.’ This was the perfect bill for me to work on because it overlapped my passion for access to health care with my drive to ensure unaccompanied youth have all of the resources they need available to them to fulfill their own paths through life and school. I feel like California will continue being a champion for these youth and will continue to break down barriers to them achieving their full potentials!”