Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Editorial regarding accountability for California foster care

State must finish job of reforming foster care
Mercury News Editorial

California is poised to enact $83 million in foster-care reform legislation that should be cause for jubilation throughout the state.

But hold off on the celebratory champagne.

The linchpin of the package, Assemblywoman Karen Bass' AB 2216, remains in limbo. Her bold bill, which is not costly, is the essential piece needed to bring accountability to foster care throughout the state.

Bass is calling for the creation of a single foster-care agency that would oversee the lives of the state's 75,000 foster children. The idea is to provide a go-to department that would be accountable for foster children's welfare and would be a strong institutional advocate for their needs.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger deserves kudos for making sure the state's budget includes sufficient funds to pay for the bipartisan package of bills that will pay for more social workers to work with foster children, encourage relatives to step up and help care for children who would otherwise have to be placed in foster homes, and offer housing and financial aid grants to foster children with the interest and ability to attend college.

But without Bass' bill, social workers will still need to navigate the state's complex education, health and court systems to obtain records for each child. And the state's foster children run the risk of continuing to be neglected, as they have been for the past two decades.

This reform is necessary because nearly one in every four foster children experiences homelessness as a child. Fewer than 2 percent graduate from college and 50 percent of former foster children don't graduate from high school and are currently unemployed. Worst of all, one out of every four foster children is incarcerated, which needlessly creates an additional burden for state taxpayers.

When the state assumes responsibility of foster children, we all become their collective parents. By supporting Bass' AB 2216, Californians can demonstrate they no longer wish to abdicate their parenting responsibility and are willing to accept their role as advocates for some of the state's most vulnerable children.


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