Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fox Studios Journey to Excellence Program

The Rowell Foster Children’s Positive Plan High Tea at Noon
Cash, Lea Michelle. Black Voice News, May 31, 2007.

According to the statistics reported by the National Foster Parent Association there are 513,000 American children in foster care. To raise money every year for the Rowell Foster Children's Positive Plan (RFCPP), the organization that she founded, Victoria Rowell, a versatile actress and best selling author, child advocate and spokesperson for foster care, holds a very special afternoon event.

Victoria Rowell with Congresswoman Maxine Waters and fans.This event reflects Hollywood and all of its glitter with some of Hollywood's hottest film and television stars stepping out wearing fashionable hats to celebrate motherhood and to support the efforts of RFCPP. This year the special event was held at the world renown Beverly Hills Hotel and the ballroom was filled to capacity with celebrities such as Anthony Anderson, Taraji Henson, Holly Robinson-Peete, and Dennis Haysbert. Cookie Johnson, wife of Magic Johnson and Pauletta Washington, wife of Denzel Washington, were also present along with a host of politicians.

NBC4 co-anchor and general assignment reporter, Chris Schauble was Master of Ceremonies. Oscar nominated actress, Angela Basset received the 1st annual Agatha Award (named after Rowell's foster mother). A live action featuring a painting by famed-collagist, Phoebe Beasley and a pearl necklace by Tiffany were a few of the items that raised thousands of dollars.

Angela Bassett is very happy holding her Agatha Award for her support of children in Foster Care system. Entertainment was provided by Comedian Jonathan Slocumb and the awarding winning singer, Patti Austin. Entertainment also featured that afternoon was by Johnell Holbert, an African American musical genius who RFCPP helped develop his talents. He recently graduated from Dominican University in San Rafael, California with a Bachelor's in Music with an emphasis in Classical music. He is planning to pursue a master's degree in the near future.

Tap dancing talent was provided by Ar Vejon Jones, Dar Vejon Jones and Jakita Robertson who are currently members of the Kennedy Tap Company. All three have been assisted by Rowell's program since its inception in 1990 and have benefited tremendously towards increased self-esteem, increased school participation, increased interest in the arts, and having a better outlook on life as children in the foster care system.

All three African American teens are exceptional high school students and active members of Fox Studios Journey to Excellence Program. Dar Vejon Jones is scheduled to attend San Francisco State University and he excels in Japanese, Environmental Science and Pre-Calculus. He said, "I am very thankful for the RFCPP organization because of the things they have allowed me to do."

May is National Foster Care Month, a time to raise the public's awareness of the need for more people to make a difference in the lives of children and youth living in foster care in the United States. Rowell was a child who grew up in the foster care system, from the time she was born until the age of 18. She has written a book titled, "The Women Who Raised Me" in honor of her foster mothers and it has become a national best seller. The RFCPP is an organization that provides structure, support and encouragement for foster youth through a variety of enrichment programs.

Only 7,103 adopted out of 54,000 California foster children waiting for adoption

State lawmakers need to aid foster system
Roseville Press Tribune, May 30, 2007.

As the Executive Director of Lilliput Children's Services, a Northern California nonprofit foster family and adoption agency, I write to bring awareness to an urgent, pressing need in our community and state.

Last year, 7,103 foster children were adopted out of the 54,000 California foster children who are waiting for adoption. We know every child who emancipates out of foster care without an adoptive family is at a significantly higher risk of becoming homeless, victimized, incarcerated and addicted to drugs/alcohol. Often, their own children become dependents of our foster care system.

Children who otherwise could be adopted remain in our foster care system in part because the state funding stream that enables agencies to recruit, train and support the families who want to adopt children has not been increased since 1999.

Agencies don't have the financial resources to do the work that needs to be done to ensure positive outcomes for these children. Our elected officials can resolve many of these problems by making this a funding priority.

Our state Legislature is now considering an augmentation to the Private Adoption Agency Reimbursement Program (PAARP) - proven to be the most effective program in connecting a foster child with a family who wants to adopt them. The time is now to fund the adoptions of children who are in foster care due to abuse, abandonment or neglect.

Karen Alvord, LCSW
Executive Director
Lilliput Children's Services
1651 Response Road, Suite 300
Sacramento, CA 95815

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

California foster care crisis; some counties with 50-60% plummet

Reports sound alarm on foster home crisis
Red Bluff Daily News, May 29, 2007.

SACRAMENTO - California is experiencing an unprecedented crisis in its ability to find licensed homes willing to accept the state's nearly 80,000 foster children, with some counties reporting an alarming 50 to 60 percent plummet in the number of such family placements, according to two new studies released May 22.

The two reports document the impact the shortage of homes is having on foster children, including costly and unnecessary placement of children in group homes, and the ways in which an outdated rate structure is limiting the ability of families to care for foster children and youth.

"We have a statewide crisis in California," said Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association, one of the organizations issuing the reports. "We have too few licensed foster families for the 80,000 children who are in our care and foster care rates that have not been increased in over six years. Foster families today receive 23 percent less than in 2000, when adjusted for inflation."

The two reports, issued by three statewide organizations representing county welfare directors and advocates for children and caregivers, indicate an average 30 percent decline in licensed foster homes across the state, with counties such as Sacramento, Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Sonoma reporting losses of 45 to 50 percent. San Bernardino County has experienced a 61 percent decline.

The reports show that as the number of licensed foster families has decreased, counties have had to turn to far more costly foster family agencies and group homes to provide care for children. Since 1999, foster care placements with foster family agencies and group homes have increased by 19 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

"Why are taxpayers paying more to deny children the most appropriate placements?," asked Ed Howard with the Children's Advocacy Institute of California, one of the organizations releasing the reports. "The state's current policy both hurts children and is fiscally baffling."

In California, licensed foster families receive $425 to $597 per month to provide care and support for foster children, depending on the age of the child. Foster family agencies and group homes, which are intended for children with higher levels of therapeutic need, cost far more.

Foster family agencies receive $1,589 to $1,865 per month and group homes receive $1,454 to $6,371 per month.

The reports document that when foster children are placed in institutional settings such as group homes they are at higher risk for developmental problems, long-term personality disorders and medical ailments. The reports also document that children stay in group homes and foster family agencies longer than they do with licensed foster families, and have less chance of being connected to family, are more likely to transition out of foster care alone, and are more likely to experience poorer outcomes as adults.

A critical theme in both reports is the relationship between the number of licensed foster families and monthly foster care payments. Both reports cite the ways in which insufficient payments are a key barrier. By analyzing various state and federal measures, including the California Necessities Index, the reports document the degree to which foster care rates have not kept up with inflation ­ noting that rates are 23 to 25 percent lower than they were in 2000 when adjusted for inflation. The report contrasts the average foster care rate of $494 per month with the average cost to care for a child in California, which is significantly higher at $707 per month. In a telling contrast, the reports note that the State of California pays less to care for foster children than the average kennel charges to board and feed a dog. Kennels charge an average of $620 per month to care for a dog, compared to the average of cost of $494 per month for basic board and care for a foster child.

"While county licensed families volunteer their homes and their time for children and youth who have been traumatized by abuse or neglect, treating them as though these children were their own, the rate of reimbursement for expenses falls far short of the actual expenditures made by these dedicated families," said Regina Deihl, executive director of Legal Advocates for Permanent Parenting, the third organization issuing one of today's reports. "Stability and permanency for these vulnerable children will not be found if families are not supported with funds to cover basic expenses, as well as other supports to assist them in doing the volunteer task which they are committed to doing well."

The reports note that foster care rates are not the only barrier to families providing care for foster children, noting research that shows as many as 60 percent of new foster parents quit within the first 12 months. The reports cite foster family surveys where families have consistently indicated the need for supports such as respite care, mentoring and ongoing access to experienced foster/adoptive parents, caseworkers and professionals. The chief recommendations called for in both reports include an immediate increase in foster care rates, ranging from 5 to 25 percent, and the provision of $25 million in additional supports for foster and adoptive families.

Both reports endorse legislation introduced by Assembly Member Jim Beall (D-Santa Clara), AB324, which would increase foster care rates by 5 percent, effective January 1, 2008, stating that the increase is a "critical first step." Both reports also strongly endorse the Beall provision that would mandate annual cost of living increases in foster care rates, a provision that is currently in state statute but routinely suspended by lawmakers in lieu of other priorities.

The two reports issued include "No Family, No Future," produced by the County Welfare Directors Association of California and Legal Advocates for Permanent Parenting, and "They Deserve a Family," produced by the Children's Advocacy Institute of California.

Both reports can be found at

Dentist awarded for providing fast track to dental services for foster children

Local doctor to be honored for youth oral care programs
Eureka Reporter, May 29, 2007.

Dr. Carter Wright will be honored Wednesday with an Excellence in Public Health Award.

According to a release from the Public Health Branch of the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, the PHB will hold a ceremony for Wright from 11:30 a.m. to noon Wednesday at the Burre Dental Clinic, located at 959 Myrtle Ave., in Eureka.

Getting children into dental care is challenging, but Wright has made Open Door Community Health Systems’ dental clinics more accessible, the PHB reported.

In order to expand services, Wright increased the capacity of the Open Door dental clinics by developing “a sound reputation of excellence and hiring and retaining culturally sensitive dental professionals,” the PHB reported.

Wright created Saturday clinics and Wednesday pediatric clinics and “has continually embraced creative programs, such as the UCSF internship program, that make the Burre Dental Health Center a unique service and educational institution,” the PHB reported.

Also, the Dental Van has made a huge impact on the lives of children who live in rural isolated communities or with families who lack transportation or have limited family cohesiveness to ensure timely oral care for their children, the PHB reported.

The Dental Van provides the only dental service some children receive.

Humboldt County Foster Care children now have one of the state’s highest rates of completed dental service due to Open Door’s Foster Care Saturday Clinics.

“Approximately 90 percent of all foster care children now have completed dental services,” said Karen Krumenacker, a foster care nurse.

Lisl Moore, also a foster care nurse, said there is a sense of teamwork and a “sincere concern that these kids are getting the dental care they need” at Burre Dental Clinic.

“I recently had a foster parent call me regarding a foster teen who incurred a dental injury that happened at school and I was able to arrange for emergency dental care for the injured teen immediately,” Moore said. “The foster teen had an appointment to be seen at Burre Dental Clinic within an hour.”

Children who need urgent care, especially those who are in pain or have compounding health conditions, are getting dental care due to Open Door’s “Fast Track” process, the PHB reported, and in addition, Burre Clinic now sees children as young as 1.

The Burre Dental Clinic is seen as a good place to go for children’s dental services, the PHB reported.

Cassie Burgess, a foster care nurse, said, “Many moms have commented that it is great to have access to Medi-Cal dental services.”

Cynthia Sutcliffe, program manager of the Social Services branch, said, “Dr. Wright and the Open Door Dental Clinics are making a difference.”

The hallmark of Wright’s work is that he has made the Open Door dental clinic system a true collaborative community partner by engaging Open Door staff in the dental advisory group, foster care program and the DHHS, Public Health Branch, the PHB reported. And, he works with the other safety-net dental clinics.

Almeda Co. has experienced 76% decrease in licensed foster homes

County aims to increase foster homes
Metinko, Chris. Media News, May 28, 2007.

Joyce Ryder had been through it all before.

As an emergency foster parent, she knew the drill — help take care of the 4-month-old girl for a few days until she could be placed in a more permanent setting.

That knowledge never made the drill any easier on Ryder.

"Every time they leave, it's like a death in the family," said Ryder, who has welcomed more than 40 foster kids into her Livermore home at different times. "It never gets easy."

So she thought it would be the same way with little Chelsea when she got the call one day in July 2003. Chelsea was developmentally disabled and suffered shaken-baby syndrome.

However, as Chelsea's medical needs grew, Alameda County Social Services Agency and Ryder decided it might be best for her to stay with Ryder, to give some stability.

By the end of the summer, the emergency care that was supposed to put Ryder and Chelsea together for a couple of days is expected to end up in official adoption.

"She's such a sweet child," said Ryder, who raised three biological children. "Her needs are so great. She needs someone around her who cares."

Ryder's story is not necessarily unique, but does get extra attention this month, as May is Foster Care Month. According to a study from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, about 513,000 American youth are in foster care.

In the East Bay, Contra Costa County has nearly 400 licensed foster families and about 1,600 foster kids in the county.

In Alameda County, there now are more than 1,200 children and youths in the county foster care system awaiting a permanent home. In fact, Alameda County has experienced a 76 percent decrease in county licensed foster homes over the last 12 years, dropping from 1,000 in 1995 to about 250 now. The county is on a campaign to significantly increase that number and has added some 30 new county-licensed foster homes recently.

Part of that problem behind the decrease in county-licensed foster homes, as cited by current foster parents, is low foster care compensation rates. In California, foster care rates have remained stagnant for over six years.

"Our first obligation to children who enter the foster care system is to ensure that if they cannot return home safely to their families that we do everything possible to provide them with a suitable loving family environment," said Chet Hewitt, director of Alameda County Social Services Agency. "A thoughtful response to these realities suggests that we should readily pay a premium — in compensation and supportive services — to individuals and families who step forward to provide this invaluable public service."

Ryder says she has paid out thousands of dollars in her own money over the years to help support her foster children.

"It can get expensive,"
she said.

However, Ryder admits that money is greatly outweighed by the experience.

"This was something I always wanted to do once my kids grew up and got older," Ryder said. "It's a highly rewarding experience."

Ryder then relates a story about Chelsea starting special education preschool this year at the same school Ryder's granddaughter attends.

"They ask (her grandchild) if Chelsea's her sister," said Ryder, who at 57 didn't expect to be a mom again. "She doesn't know what to say," Ryder laughs.

"You have to want to do it," she adds, "but if you want to, it's a very rewarding."

If you are interested in finding out more about becoming an foster or adoptive parent, contact (510) 259-3575 or in Alameda County.

In Contra Costa County, call toll free (866) 313-7788 or (925) 335-7089 or visit

Tasteless remarks don't less the joy of adopting an autistic boy from foster care

It doesn't take a saint to adopt disabled child
Finding the lovable in an autistic 6-year-old

Savarese, Ralph James. Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2007.

''Why would anyone adopt a badly abused, autistic 6-year-old from foster care?"

So my wife and I were asked at the outset of our adoption-as-a-first-resort adventure. It was a reasonable question in this age of narrow self-concern — far more reasonable, or at least more reasonably put, than many of the other questions we fielded.

For example, "Why don't you have your own children?" a wealthy relative inquired, as if natural family-making were a kind of gated community it was best never to abandon. "You two have such good genes," she added. "Why waste them?"

A colleague at work confronted me in the mailroom with this memorable gem: "Have you tried in-vitro?" She feared that we hadn't availed ourselves of the many wondrous technologies that rescue infertile couples. "Wouldn't that be better than adopting a child with a disability?" she asked, drawing out the word "disability." "God knows what that kid's parents were doing when they conceived him."

"We're not infertile," I barked. "We have a relationship with the boy."

My wife, an autism expert, had offered his mother services, but as the woman found it increasingly difficult to care for her son and then dropped out of the picture altogether, we'd started spending time with him. His first communicative act with language, at age 3 — the sign for "more" — we'd taught him while tickling his belly.

He later made that sign in the emergency room of a hospital where he was brought after being beaten in foster care. Upon seeing us — we'd been called in to try to calm him — he stopped in his tracks, paused (as if to allow some associative chain to complete itself) and demanded obsessively to be tickled.

I remember searching on his chest for unbruised patches among the purple, blue and black. He was that frantic in his quest for the familiar and, dare I say, for love.

To this day, I can't believe how callous people were; the strange anxiety that adopting a child with a disability provoked. And the anxiety just kept coming. "Healthy white infants must be tough to get," a neighbor commented. No paragons of racial sensitivity, we were nevertheless appalled by the idea that we'd do anything to avoid adopting, say, a black child or an Hispanic one.

As offensive was the assumption that we must be devout Christians: hyperbolic, designated do-gooders with a joint eye firmly on some final prize. "God's reserving a special place for you," we heard on more than one occasion, as if our son deserved pity and we were allowed neither our flaws nor a different understanding of social commitment. The journalist Adam Pertman, in his otherwise excellent book, Adoption Nation, reproduces this logic exactly when he speaks of "children so challenging that only the most saintly among us would think of tackling their behavioral and physical problems."

Despite the stigma attached to "special-needs children," people do adopt these kids. And yet, many more Americans spend gobs of money on fertility treatments or travel to foreign countries to find their perfect little bundles.

I'm haunted by something my son wrote after we taught him how to read and type on a computer: "I want you to be proud of me. I dream of that because in foster care I had no one." How many kids lie in bed at night and think something similar?

The physical and behavioral problems have been significant, at times even crushing. The last eight years have been devoted almost exclusively to my son's welfare: literacy training, occupational therapy, relationship building, counseling for post-traumatic stress — the list goes on and on. But what strides he has made.

The boy who was still in diapers and said to be retarded when he came to live with us is now a straight-A student at our local middle school. He's literally rewriting the common scripts of autism and "attachment disorder" (the broad diagnosis for the problems of abandoned and traumatized kids). These are hopeless scripts, unforgiving scripts in which the child can't give back.

My son does, and others can as well. Recently, in response to my hip replacement, he typed on his computer, "I'm nervous because Dad has not brought me braces (his word for crutches)." I was just home from the hospital — wobbly, a bit depressed, in pain. To my question, "Why do you need crutches?" he responded endearingly, "You know how I like to be just like you." My son was trying to make me feel better, taking on my impairment, limping with me.

Savarese is the author of "Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism & Adoption", published this week by Other Press. This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Six years budget freeze creates less group homes, foster families

Opinion: Foster care suffers from budget freeze
Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2007.

Re "Is gov.'s budget picking on the helpless or using them as bargaining chips?" column, May 17.

The governor's proposed budget would freeze payments for the care of the state's most vulnerable and abused children for the sixth year in a row, resulting in a 20% cumulative cut in support since 2001. No one can question that the lives of foster children are improved through the love and nurturing that they receive from stable caregivers.

When the state fails to provide adequate financial support, good families and youth counselors turn away from foster care-giving and high-quality group homes close their doors.

At Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services, we struggle to recruit new foster parents to replace those who leave fostering. A six-year budget freeze has contributed to our agency's closing 65 group-home beds over the last three years and a probable elimination of another 98 by June.

Foster children deprived of caring, stable relationships tragically drop out, run away and end up in jail; it's happening now, and it's within California's power to change it. The governor should recognize the state's obligation to provide those who care for our foster children with the first cost-of-living adjustment in six years.

President, Chief Executive
Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Lack of available foster parents leads to increased number of children being placed outside of county

$500 a month not enough, parents say
Republicans argue budget has no room for raise

Garcia, Edwin. MediaNews, May 24, 2007.

SACRAMENTO - For $500, you can make a lease payment on that new Chrysler Sebring convertible, pay about a month's worth of tuition at the University of California, or, if you're lucky, rent a car.

For the same 500 bucks a month, the state of California thinks you can raise a child.

Parents who rear some of California's nearly 80,000 foster children joined a San Jose lawmaker Tuesday in demanding the state increase the payments they receive - typically $425 to $597 a month - to supply food, clothing, shelter and other necessities to kids who have been removed from their biological families because of abuse or neglect.

Their low-key protest on the steps of the state Capitol, in the form of a news conference, sought to highlight Assembly Bill 324, which proposes to boost the reimbursement rate by a modest 5 percent, and ensure future raises by adjusting the payments to the cost of living.

"The average kennel charges you $620 a month for taking care of a dog," said the measure's author, Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, "so our kids don't even get as much money as a dog."

It's no wonder, child welfare advocates say, that foster parents are abandoning their roles, creating a statewide "crisis" that can have costly repercussions because if homes aren't found, the social services budget will be forced to pay for more expensive care in institutions. That crisis is especially acute in some parts of the Bay Area.

Not having stable and more permanent homes also increases a foster child's chance of becoming a juvenile offender and long-term reliance on social service programs, studies show.

The state in recent years has experienced about a 30 percent decline in licensed foster homes, according to the County Welfare Directors Association of California.

At the beginning of 2007, there were 51 foster homes in Yolo County. As a result, of the 440 children in foster care, 227 were placed in foster family agencies, 24 in foster family homes, 145 in relative/non-relative guardian homes and 44 in group homes, according to officials.

"The lack of foster homes is somewhat misleading, given that so many of Yolo County's amazing foster parents end up adopting their foster children." Richard Peterson, this year's Child Abuse Prevention Campaign Coordinator, for the Yolo County Children's Alliance and Children's Health Initiative, recently told Yolo County supervisors.

"At the same time, we are also seeing an increase in the number of Yolo County foster children going to families outside of the county," Peterson said. "This puts a greater hardship on the children in the system. It is imperative that we recruit more foster parents."

Like all children, those in foster care deserve and benefit from enduring, positive relationships with caring adults. Without these permanent connections, former foster children are far more likely than their peers to endure homelessness, poverty, compromised health, unemployment, incarceration and other adversities after they leave the foster care system.

Reimbursements range from $425 for raising an infant or toddler, to $597 for children from 15 to 20 years old, and they all qualify for state-sponsored health insurance, but no additional tax breaks.

The monthly reimbursement rates have been frozen since 2001.

Parents and their supporters told anecdotes about the financial burden of raising a foster child and struggling to pay for items such as child care, swimming lessons, a bed, music lessons and therapy. And several tried to quash an often-repeated myth about parents choosing to form foster families as a money-making proposition.

If nothing changes by 2020:

• More than 9 million children will be in the foster care system statewide.

• More than 300,000 children will age out of the foster care system in poor health and ill-prepared for success in higher education, technical college or the workforce; and

99,000 former foster youth, who aged out of the system, can expect to be homeless.

• To find out more about becoming a Foster Parent, contact the Yolo County Foster Parent Licensing Agency at 666-8471. The Yolo County Children's Alliance and Children's Health Initiative is a nonprofit children's collaborative working to improve the wellbeing of children, youth and families in all the communities of Yolo County. To learn more call 757-5558 or visit:

"All you need to do is go down to the mall and see how much it costs to buy clothes, to buy food, to buy the things that we need to do to take care of our children," said Assemblywoman Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, who has an extensive track record on legislation benefiting foster families.

The news conference held Tuesday coincided with the release of two reports issued by three organizations that warn California is headed toward a crisis if the Legislature and governor don't do something to retain foster families.

The raise being sought will boost reimbursement by about about $25 a month, which foster parents such as Dinneen Gerard-Larsen of Bakersfield, who took charge of an infant that was supplied only with a diaper, a bottle and a sleeping outfit, acknowledge isn't a huge help.

"I don't think we're asking for much - what it symbolizes to me is respect," she said. "I don't think California actually realizes we're raising their children."

If the state continues to lose foster parents, Beall said, more children will end up in foster care agencies, which cost the state as much as $1,865 a month, or group homes, which can be as high as $6,371 a month.

The 5 percent increase proposed to go into effect next year would cost the state about $8 million a year. Another $25 million would provide additional support for foster families and the parents who end up adopting their foster children.

Although many, if not all Democrats, are likely inclined to vote for the increase, fiscally conscious Republicans aren't in favor.

"The fact of the matter is we don't have the money," said Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Sacramento, the vice chairman of the budget committee who noted that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget shows a $6.7 billion gap. - BULLSHIT

"There are, and I suppose always will be, more requests for money than we have money available, even in the best of times," Niello said, "but we're facing right now some very difficult times, and this need is a worthy need - I don't disagree with that - but there are many others too."

Free family law guide from California State Bar Association

State Bar releases guide for parents
Alden, Philip. San Mateo Daily Journal, May 22, 2007.

For some parents their introduction to the law and their children happens because junior gets into a little trouble with the local authorities. Children make mistakes and the law takes such things into account, and there are some very good lawyers out there to help when such things happen.

But there is a much more complex interplay between kids and law enforcement, and unless you happen to be a lawyer, you may not know much about this interplay. Even some lawyers know very little about the criminal justice system. It’s like asking a podiatrist to perform open-heart surgery, (no insult intended to all the hard-working podiatrists out there). People specialize nowadays and nobody knows all aspects of the law, (or medicine for that matter).

Fortunately, the California State Bar Association has provided a handy (and free) guide to help not only parents, but everyone navigate the potentially treacherous waters that are kids and the law.

To order your free copy of the guide, or multiple copies, send an e-mail to and they will gladly send you as many copies of this handy guide you may need.

The guide is good for both adults and children to read, so both groups understand their responsibilities and rights under California state law. The State Bar Association is eager to have teachers as well as parents order, read and distribute this guide to their kids.

It’s easy to read and covers things like; gangs, parents’ rights, smoking, graffiti, working, truancy, school rules, driving, juvenile court and online predators.

There are many interesting topics covered in the guide, such as “The Age Of Majority,” which is a term to describe when the law no longer views a person as a “child.” This spells out when a person is old enough to; enter into binding contracts, buy, sell or hold property including real estate and stock, marry without the consent of a parent or guardian, sue or be sued in civil court, make or revoke a will, inherit property, vote, and even join the military without parental consent.

The guide also covers bikes, skateboards, scooters, cars and traffic laws — and how they relate to our kids. It covers alcohol laws and even has a section entitled; “Laws that young drivers should know.”

It also covers child abuse and neglect, drug laws, criminal conduct, curfew laws, guns, and computers and the Internet.

Because this guide is produced from a grant and by The State Bar Association both kids and parents can be assured of its accuracy. It lays things out in a very straightforward manner, with easy to read text. I read the entire guide and found it helpful, informative and definitely educational. I learned some things about kids and the law I never knew, and I’ve spent most of my life around lawyers.

This guide will help parents protect their kids, kids protect themselves and adults that interact with children understand how this pivotal area of the law works. I highly recommend it as required reading for all Californians, regardless of their age.

Once again, the guide is available simply by requesting copies via e-mail: or by contacting the State Bar Association at: 180 Howard St., San Francisco, 94105.

Tax-deductible donations to the California State Bar Association are always appreciated, but not required for copies of the guide.

Low numbers of foster parents lead to unsafe placements

New foster care safeguards reviewed
Simerman, John. Contra Costa Times, May 8, 2007.

MARTINEZ -- Deonna Green was pole-thin and getting thinner, but that's not what killed her. The 2-year-old died from eating baking soda out of a box in the fridge, the coroner found.
Still, her death in December while in the care of a 22-year-old Pittsburg foster mother exposed wide holes in Contra Costa County's child safety net.

Five months later, county health leaders have joined with child welfare officials in a plan they hope will plug some of those holes.

Presented Monday to a county committee, the changes include two new half-day health clinics for foster children, with doctors, nurses and social workers on hand; a mentoring program for first-time foster parents; and a computer tracking system for foster kids in the county health system.

Also planned are regular follow-up visits when children are placed for the first time in a new foster home and educating doctors and other "mandated reporters" of their responsibility to quickly report suspected child abuse or neglect.

The county Board of Supervisors in January demanded changes after officials acknowledged communication lapses prior to Deonna's death.

Doctors were concerned with her weight, but social workers never got the message. And child welfare officials never knew that the state had cited Deonna's new foster mom, also a licensed day care provider, for a failure to supervise.

There were red flags, officials admit, but none were waved.

"We had done what the state required us to do, but of course there were gaps," said Valerie Earley, director of county Children and Family Services. She also noted that the county does not have a "formalized way of supporting our foster parents once they get a license."

Deonna and her older sister entered new foster mom Khareasha Pugh's home in August. On Oct. 20, during an emergency room visit to the county Regional Medical Center, Deonna weighed 24 pounds. A doctor noted a "failure to thrive," county health officials said.

By Nov. 30, when she visited a Pittsburg clinic, she weighed 19 pounds. The doctor ordered tests and referred Deonna to a pediatric clinic, but the word back to county social workers "was not, let's say, adequately alarming," said Dr. Jeff Smith, who oversees the hospital and county clinics.

"Would it have changed anything? We don't know."

Prosecutors declined to charge Pugh, saying there was no evidence that she was starving Deonna, criminally negligent or endangering the child.

The foster care clinics will open in June, and the computerized system should be up this summer, said Joe Valentine, who heads the county Employment and Human Services Department. He said the reforms include "very specific and very measurable steps."

The county's health services director said part of the trouble in creating a coordinated system lies with how the state doles out foster care dollars to programs with tight restrictions.

"We're not going to break any state rules, but we're going to bend some around," Dr. William Walker said Monday before the county Family and Human Services Committee.

County Supervisor Federal Glover, who in January took child welfare officials to task for what he called unacceptable lapses, said he saw progress in the plan. Supervisor Susan Bonilla questioned why the agency would assign foster kids to a 22-year-old woman, but also expressed optimism.

"It's just such a tragic and sobering situation," she said. "But I feel the response has been quick, thorough and I think there's been a commitment to really making significant changes."

The supervisors asked for the agencies to report back on their progress in six months.

Need for more accountability regarding social workers visiting children in care

Contra Costa outlines foster care reform plan
CBS 5, San Francisco, May 8, 2007.

(BCN) MARTINEZ Contra Costa County Children and Family Services director Valerie Early updated county supervisors Tuesday on the department's so-called System Improvement Plan, but Supervisor Gayle Uilkema said that she would like the department's goals set higher.

Specifically, under the new plan CFS will be working to have social workers make 90 percent of their regular monthly visits to children in foster care.

Uilkema said that these visits were an important part of how the department knows if a child in foster care is being abused or neglected.

She said that she would like to see the goal set at social workers making 95 percent of their monthly visits this year and then increase the compliance every year until it reaches 100 percent.

Similarly, while the department would like to be able to guarantee that no children taken from their homes and placed in foster care would be further abused or neglected, the current goal is to reduce that number by 50 percent to .25 percent, according to CFS Director Valerie Early.

Translated into actual numbers, that means reducing identified incidences of abuse or neglect of children in foster care from the current number of 12 down to five out of the 1600 children currently in the county's foster care system, Director of CFS Valerie Early told county supervisors.

Director of Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services Department Joe Valentine, however, said that the department has to operate within its budget.

The state is currently funding CFS at one half the national standard and the department is doing its best to operate with the resources it is given, Valentine said.

County Administrator John Cullen said in December that the county CFS department receives between 23,000 and 24,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect each year and in any given month, they are working with more than 3,000 children.

According to Early, there are currently 1600 children in the foster care system in Contra Costa County.

In spite of its tight budget, CFS has made significant improvements in other areas. According to the report, in 3003 CFS had a 52 percent compliance rate for investigating reports of abuse or neglect within 10 days. In 2005, which is the most current data CFS reported, the compliance rate was up to 95.1 percent.

In 2003 social workers were making between 77.9 percent and 79.4 percent of their monthly visits to children in foster care. By 2005 that number had jumped to between 90.7 percent and 91.5 percent, according to the report.

The formal process of developing the System Improvement Plan began in 2001 in response to federal and state mandates to track, report and improve the care of children within the system.

However, the department came under close public scrutiny last year after the deaths of 8-year-old Raijon Daniels and 2-year-old Deonna Green.

Raijon died in October after his mother allegedly tortured and abused him for months or even years. Cuts, bruises, chemical burns and extensive scars were found covering Raijon's entire body, according to the coroner's report.

Before his death, CFS had received five separate reports from people who suspected that Raijon was being abused beginning in November 2005.
The most recent report was in January of 2006. Raijon's case was closed eight months before he died, according to CFS documents.

Deonna, who was a month away from her third birthday, weighed only 17 pounds when she died Dec. 7 from sodium bicarbonate poisoning caused by eating baking soda.

She had been living in a foster home in Pittsburg when she died.

The Contra Costa District Attorney's office did not charge the foster mother in connection with Deonna's death in part because the social worker assigned to Deonna's case hadn't noticed anything wrong with the child.

CFS conducted an extensive investigation into how their system managed to fail the two children so badly and have been working to implement a number of changes in addition to those changes outlined in the System Improvement Plan.

Yolo Co. celebrates Foster Care Month

National Foster Care Month celebrated in Yolo County
Foster children, families work to increase awareness

Burks, Courtney Burks. California Aggie, May 16, 2007.

Foster children and their parents are celebrating in Yolo County and around the country in light of National Foster Care Month. The month of May is selected as NFCM in order to increase awareness about the issues abused or neglected children and the families who take them in face.

According to the NFCM campaign, there are currently 513,000 foster children in America who have special needs or whose families are unable to care for them. Originating in 1988, NFCM was established to acknowledge and appreciate the hard work of foster-care families across the country.

Virginia Pryor, chair of the NFCM campaign, said May was chosen to celebrate the foster families because it follows in line with April's National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and that the general population is more easily able to get involved in appreciation for foster children and parents.

"[NFCM] means that we have a designated time each year to raise visibility of the issue of foster care exponentially," Pryor said. "Similar to breast cancer awareness, we focus our energy and our commitment through 14 national organizations to uplift the critical issue of foster care and educate the general public about this vulnerable population and how they can make a difference."

Juliana Shon, a Yolo County social worker and foster care recruitment and retention specialist, said many events have been taking place in Yolo County to recognize the foster parents in the area.

"We've gone to the capitol to lobby to get new legislation passed for more supportive services, we have a movie night for the children and we are holding a special appreciation dinner on May 24, where free child care will be provided for the foster parents," Shon said.

Cherie Schroeder, director of the Foster and Kinship Care Education Program for Yolo County, said there is a great need for more foster-care families in the United States and she hopes to see a great change in the coming years.

"Children and youth in foster care require safe, stable, and nurturing environments to live in until they can either safely reunite with their parents or establish other lifelong family relationship," Schroeder said. "Yolo County is urgently seeking many more everyday people to come forward for our nation's most vulnerable children so they may realize their full potential."

Shon said the purpose of NFCM is to show appreciation for the foster families who have dedicated their time to providing safer atmospheres for foster children.

"We like to consider foster parents as professional parents," she said. "Without them, our children would be placed in emergency shelters or crisis nurseries, as the children are removed from a home where they've been abused or neglected."

The message of this year's NFCM encourages more families to get involved in providing foster care for children across the country.

"No matter how much time you have to give, you can do something positive to change the lifetime for a young person in foster care," the message states.

For more information, visit the National Foster Care Month website at

Former teenage mother creates organization: Chicks in Crisis

Photo from Sacramento Bee by Anne Chadwick Williams
Taking care of her 'girls:' Inez Whitlow, founder of Chicks in Crisis, does whatever it takes to help pregnant women in need

Hubert, Cynthia. Sacramento Bee, May 25, 2006, pg. J1.

A ringing phone in the middle of the night jars Inez Whitlow awake.

"The contractions are hurting really bad," says a desperate voice on the hotline.

Within minutes, Whitlow is dressed and behind the wheel of her blue Ford Expedition, peeling out of her Elk Grove cul-de-sac and heading for the hospital. Heading out to hold the hand of "one of my girls," as she calls them.

The "girls" are almost universally scared, confused and unprepared for motherhood, not unlike Whitlow herself when she was young and pregnant.

For the past 10 years, Whitlow and her nonprofit group Chicks in Crisis have been shepherding these women through their unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

Some of her clients are suburban teenagers. Some are older women in jail or prison. Some are homeless drug addicts. Whitlow's mission is to do everything possible to make sure they deliver healthy babies, and help them map out futures for their children.

On some days, that means hauling cans of food and other supplies to pregnant women who live in shelters, ramshackle houses or along the river. On others, it means taking them to medical appointments and court dates. Whitlow's car is packed with Huggies and baby wipes and blankets, just in case she encounters a mother in need. Her garage serves as a food pantry and clothing closet for her "chicks." More times than she can remember, she has given up her own bed to a pregnant woman and taken in a newborn baby awaiting adoption.

"I just help my girls through difficult times, and I try not to judge them," she says.

It's not always easy, especially when people take advantage of her generosity, demand more than their share or betray her trust. Whitlow has been lied to, ripped off, duped and threatened by some of the women she has clothed and fed and nurtured.

But when she presides over the birth of a healthy baby who has the promise of a bright future, she says, nothing else matters.

"I figured out my purpose real early in life," says Whitlow as she sits in a hospital waiting room one afternoon with a very pregnant client. "This is it."

Whitlow's purpose has nothing to do with politics or religion, nor is she pushing an anti-abortion agenda, she insists.

She is driven, she says, by nothing more than a love of children and a desire to keep as many of them as possible out of the foster care system.

"I absolutely hate foster care,"
she says, running a hand through her blonde hair. "Children need permanent homes. Period."

In Sacramento County alone, more than 4,000 children are in foster care at any given time, says Laurie Slothower of Child Protective Services. Many of them never will be placed in permanent homes, a fact that puts their futures at risk. Statistics show that children "emancipated" from foster care at age 18 are far more likely than their peers in stable homes to get into legal trouble, Slothower says.

CPS shares Whitlow's concerns about reducing the number of foster children, says Slothower. "It's true that it takes a village to raise a child, and we need all the help we can get. Government agencies can't do it all."

But the children most in need of foster homes are older kids, not babies, who are almost always adopted quickly, she says. If Whitlow wants to make a bigger impact, "she might do well to focus on kids ages 8 and older," Slothower says.

Whitlow says she's happy to help anyone in need.

She started Chicks in Crisis because she knows what it's like to be "pregnant and scared," she says.

Born and raised in Sacramento, she became pregnant while she was in high school and "got married in my prom dress," she says. She knows firsthand about poverty and welfare. One time, after her gas and electricity were shut off for lack of payment, "I yelled, 'I'm so tired of being a chick in crisis!'" That lament inspired the name of her organization.

Whitlow, who eventually got off welfare and went to school to become a paralegal, launched Chicks in Crisis 10 years ago. A divorced, 43-year-old mother of four adult children, she is currently parenting a 7-year-old boy whose biological mother is in prison.

Foster mother is reunited with a member of the sibling group she took in

A call for more foster parents
Forum highlights challenges, rewards

Hoffman, Natalie. Napa Vallet Register, May 26, 2007.

Peggy Smith was ready to add one daughter to her family — at least for a little while — but she ended up with three.

Six years ago, Smith got a call from a Napa County Child Protective Services worker who told her three sisters taken out of their home needed a place to stay.

“They wanted to know if I could take one of them,” Smith said. When Smith arrived at CPS, she saw the three huddled together on a social worker’s office couch, and she didn’t want to break them up. She got special permission to take two, but as she was driving them to her home, she turned around. Could she take them all?

Make a difference
Napa County is home to 96 of California’s approximately 80,000 foster care children. To become a foster parent or a licensed respite care provider, contact the Napa County Department of Foster Care Services at 253-4761.

Eventually, Smith, 47, got the OK to take all three children home, where she housed and cared for them for one week.

Three weeks ago, Smith heard a knock on her door and opened it to find a beautiful teenager.

“Peggy, do you remember me?” the girl said.

Smith apologized and said no.

“You took me and my two sisters in. I was waiting to get into high school so I could walk over here and say hi.”

Smith, who has been a foster parent for 11 years, said she never knows how long she will have a foster child, and it always is difficult to see them go.

“There is a risk in loving them,” she said.

Smith’s story — and the concerns of five other panelists — were heard by an audience of about 70 people at a Napa County Foster Care Forum early Thursday evening, where guests discussed challenges and issues surrounding the foster care system.

Linda Canan of Napa County Child Welfare Services said there are 96 foster children in Napa County — more boys than girls. The biological families of these children are often shattered by alcohol and drug abuse, she said.

Canan said when children are taken out of their homes, it is best if they can be kept with their siblings and placed with relatives or extended family. Children often do better, she said, when cared for by someone familiar; being close to their school and friends is also ideal. If no family members are available, she said, children go to county-licensed foster homes.

Canan said Napa needs more foster parents, adding that local foster parents need more support groups and licensed respite care providers. Respite providers care temporarily for foster children, enabling foster parents to take occasional reprieves.

An advocate for both foster parents and foster children, Canan also expressed the need for more support and guidance systems for emancipated foster youth, who often face multiple personal challenges. To assist these young adults, Canan encouraged local businesses to create job opportunities for them.

Barry Feinberg, an expert on kinship care — grandparents raising their grandchildren — said one third of local foster care children are living with grandparents; he advocates increasing funds for these caregivers.

Brian Cahill, executive director of Catholic Charities in San Francisco, said social workers should continue to use caution when determining when to put children in foster care, adding that historically, children from poor families are more likely to be put into foster care than children of more affluent families.

Cahill also explored the ever-present tug-of-war between family privacy and government intrusion. Some abusive parents, he said, feel only they know what’s best for their children.

“Until about 1912, a child was a piece of property. Those residual conflicts are still there.”

Because some foster youth face so many personal issues, Cahill said, legislation is necessary to create service systems which address multiple problems, including neglect, disabilities and drug and alcohol abuse.

Jim Asbury, a Napa businessman and chairman of Foster Care Advocates, said Thursday’s forum helped to bring more public awareness to the issues of foster care. He echoed panelists’ concerns, including the need for more mentors for foster children, additional funding for foster care providers and respite care for foster parents.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Kashif creates public service announcements about foster care

National Foster Care Month
Internet Video Magazine, May 15, 2007.

R&B Producer/Musician and Recording Industry Entrepreneur

It is a short subway ride from Brooklyn’s ghetto to the famed Radio City Music Hall. For foster care alum Kashif, this would become the journey of a lifetime transporting him from the despair of his childhood into the brilliant limelight of center stage.

Never knowing his real parents, Kashif endured an early life of abandonment and abuse. He grew up in eight different foster homes in the poorest neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

Kashif overcame the challenges of his childhood to become a versatile musical performer and the accomplished record producer behind the smash hits of Whitney Houston, George Benson, Barry White and Lil' Kim earning him six Grammy nominations and induction into the R&B Hall of Fame as a “Living Legend.”

Today, this multimedia entrepreneur (and single parent of two adopted sons) is helping other foster children find a better life through his iCare Foundation and as a spokesperson for National Foster Care Month.

To kick-off the Foster Care Month celebration in May, Kashif has produced three new public service announcements to inspire many more people to do something positive that will change a lifetime for America’s 513,000 children and youth in foster care.

Available spots:
· In the Lab (:30)
· I Wanna Be Just Like Them (:30) featuring former Miss Black USA Venice Manuel
· Spark of Life (:30) starring LA Sparks star Tamika Jackson

You can see the Public Service Announcements at

Saturday, May 05, 2007

At least 37% of YEAH residents lived in foster care

Foster care ends, survival begins
Bills propose alternative to life on streets
Steffens, Sara. Contra Costa Times, April 22, 2007.

Editor's note: The youths profiled in this story allowed a reporter and photographer to observe their lives at a shelter and on the streets of Berkeley during several weeks. Details of their stories were verified through court records and others' accounts. The Times agreed not to publish their last names.

Jose Cuervo unzips his tattered backpack and pulls out a crushed box of toasted honey crunch.

Months of staying in a shelter for homeless youths have taught him to provide for himself, carry what he might need. So alongside his toothbrush, razor and cigarettes, he totes his preferred brand of sugary cereal.

Shaking some in a bowl, he offers the box to his fellow diners at Berkeley's Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel, most of whom are engrossed in a videotaped Goofy cartoon.

"I like my diabetes in the morning," jokes Jose, 18, who has left behind his real last name and now insists on a tequila-inspired alter ego. "Anyone want to get diabetes with me?"

His girlfriend wanders into the room, hair still damp, makeup already fully applied.

"Hi, honey, something's, like, on fire," says Christina, who has scribbled her nickname, Creepy, across the toe of her Converse.

"These people are trying to cook pancakes," Jose tells her.

He gestures to the volunteers busily preparing breakfast for the residents of the makeshift church shelter, where 40 to 50 young adults spend rainy winter nights.

Despite the burning flapjacks, most of the residents already are eating hungrily, laughing at the cartoons as they clean their plates. At 8 a.m., they groan when a staff member switches off the TV.

Time to go.

But where?

On her way out the door, Christina grabs a bunch of helium balloons left over from someone's celebration. "You've got to have some kind of sunshine in your life," she explains. "And it's raining."

At YEAH, as the shelter is fondly known, most personal attributes are fair game for teasing: Who snores. Who seems to have lost their short-term memory smoking marijuana. Who needs a shower.

But one topic remains off limits: Why they ended up here in the first place, sleeping on the floor of the Lutheran Church of the Cross.

Asked privately, most share the same answer. Born into homes plagued by poverty, abuse, addiction or mental illness, and not yet sure how to support themselves, they simply have nowhere else to go.

In surveys, 37 percent of YEAH residents report having lived in foster care. The actual number is probably higher, staff members say.

"Nobody really talks about what they've been through," says Christina, 18, who spent her teenage years bouncing through foster placements and group homes. "But you look at some of the people here, and you know."

A year or two after becoming legal adults, nearly half of former foster children lack high school diplomas or GEDs, national studies have found.

Sixty percent live in poverty.

More than half are unemployed.

And at least a third become homeless.

Middle-class parents provide years of financial and emotional support to help their teenagers complete college and enter the workforce. But foster children are supposed to provide for themselves at 18, or shortly thereafter.

"These are the kids who have the least, through no fault of their own, and we require the most of them," said Sharon Hawkins Leyden, executive director of YEAH.

"These are the poorest of the poor, the most thrown-away kids. They probably need four years like a college student. Instead, we tell them to go to school, get a job, set up a life, and when you don't there's something wrong with you."

Independent-living programs can help former foster youths find work, build life skills or pay college tuition. But the need for housing far outpaces the supply, so units usually go to those deemed most capable of succeeding.

"You've got to be one of the goody special kids," Christina says.

After being placed in foster care at age 12, she spent her teenage years bouncing through foster families and group homes in the Central Valley.

"I wasn't bad," she says. "It's just the situation. They (expletive) you over."

High school would have been easier if she could have stayed in one school, she said. Instead, she shuttled from campus to campus, trailing credits. For a few months last year, she wasn't enrolled anywhere as her group home tried to get records to satisfy the local school district.

On the cusp of adulthood but no closer to earning her diploma, Christina was sent to Berkeley in the summer to live with her mother, who she hadn't seen in several years and who had her own struggles.

"She really tries," said Christina, "but she's still doing so bad I don't really even want to be around it because it hurts me."

Before long, Christina was staying out all night, stashing her stuff at friends' homes.

"When I first became homeless, I was like, it's no big deal, party every night," she says. "But after awhile you get tired. It gets cold and there ain't a party every night. And even if there were, you couldn't stay up that long."

Christina, Jose and two friends trudge down University Avenue in the rain, balloons bouncing behind.

Like most days, they're headed for Shattuck Avenue, where city workers are still emptying the garbage cans and commuters have just begun their rush to work.

"Spare a dollar? Spare a dollar? Spare a dollar? Spare a dollar? Spare a dollar?"

Christina strikes out five times in a row.

Breaking the rules, Jose heads into the BART station to spare-change, or "spange." "Could anyone spare a dollar?" he asks, explaining he has a train ticket but that his girlfriend came up short.

In a few minutes, he panhandles $4, mostly in quarters. If people think you're homeless, he explains, you won't get a dime.

He leaves a few smokes behind for Christina, then heads off to catch the bus to his dog-walking job in Albany.

Still outside the BART station, Christina sits on a wall and fixes her eyeliner. Every few minutes another YEAH resident passes by, waving hello.

"That's the thing here, everybody knows everybody," says Jay, a friend of Christina's who spent his teenage years in foster care.

"Ever since 18, everything has been temporary," says Jay, now 21. "I've been doing couch tours and living on linoleum."

In June, he helped a boyfriend move to the Bay Area. When they broke up, he lived with a relative for a while. He then moved into a youth shelter in Oakland but couldn't meet the rules.

Finally, he ended up at YEAH, which takes young adults up to age 25. After spending the winter at the shelter, Jay was desperate to get out of Berkeley.

"It's time to go," he says. "It's so suffocating here, 'cause a lot of it is drugs."

Like others entering adulthood, street kids experiment with getting drunk or high. Some try hallucinogens and pills to cut the boredom. A few graduate to more addictive drugs, smoking crack or shooting methamphetamine.

After watching a string of friends and acquaintances get arrested for possession, Jay wants a break from the scene. A friend has promised to help him buy a bus ticket back to Southern California. He's exhausted, ready for a new start.

"The situation I'm in right now, I have to stay positive," Jay says. "This is my rock bottom."

Hoping to brighten their mood, Christina and Jay split a $4 dose of Ecstasy, sold to them by an older man on Shattuck Avenue. If the drug has any effect, it doesn't last long.

Bored, they head over to Telegraph Avenue, where a bedraggled man reaches up from the sidewalk to shake his cup at them.

"Dude, you can't spange us," Christina tells him. "We spange, too."

She starts poking into shops, looking for things to steal. Christina prides herself on not looking homeless, and clerks rarely seem to suspect her of shoplifting.

"I'm a booster, pretty much," she says, unashamed. "I steal things and I sell them. And if I don't sell them, I give them away."

For a time, she wore a hoodie with its plastic security tag still attached. "That's a hella fashion statement," a friend says, admiring the boldness.

Some of the other youths don't approve of Christina's stealing. But for homeless young adults, friends are survival. If Christina got in trouble, they would try to help.

"We're all street kids," Jay explains. "At the end of the day, I'm all you got. They're all I've got."

Born to an incarcerated teenage mother, Jose spent his first nine years bouncing through East Bay foster homes.

"I was always the baddest kid in the house," he says. "I was always doing stupid (stuff)," such as putting toothpaste in someone's shoes.

Then Jose's life took a dramatic turn: He was adopted by an Albany couple, along with his younger sister.

The couple, Martha and Lee, first met the siblings when they were toddlers and living in a friend's foster home.

Jose was 9 when he and his sister finally moved in, and 12 when he was adopted.

For a while, he thrived in his new home. He trained service dogs, joined the puppeteer team at the family's Pentecostal church and learned to play drums.

Jose has always been charming, eager for attention and love, Martha says. But all the moving had taken its toll on him and his sister, destroying their ability to trust adults.

"It was a bigger challenge than I had expected," Martha says. "Their expectation was that we would dump them just like everybody else. They got set up to fail -- I'm not saying they have failed, but those were like weights that were hanging on them emotionally when they were placed with us."

For years, Jose said, he was furious with his birth mother for abandoning him. He also grieved for the homes where he wanted to stay, the parents he once imagined would become permanent.

"My whole life in foster care, that's all I got," he says. "'We love you while you're here, but when you're gone, we're never going to talk to you again.'"

As a teenager, Jose chafed under his adoptive parents' rules and expectations. He started staying at other people's houses, hanging out on Shattuck and Telegraph. He left high school with 180 of the 250 credits needed for his diploma.

"After I finished my junior year, my summer just lasted and lasted and lasted," he says.

When Jose turned 18, his adoptive parents kicked him out. His sister was already gone, having gotten into legal trouble.

"We told him, these are the rules. If you don't want to follow them, you're on your own," Martha explains.

When Jose asked to return home, Martha says, it wasn't easy to say no. But she said she believes he needs to learn to follow rules, and her faith assures her no harm will come to him.

"I'm a Christian," she says. "I do believe God's hand is on him. He knows the Lord's voice, and God's given me his promise."

Jose started sleeping out -- camping with other street kids in Berkeley's Ohlone Park, squatting in the storage units of an apartment building, and finally taking up residence inside a vacant print shop, where he and Christina were later arrested for trespassing.

At first, he liked being homeless, he says. He made friends, spent his days loaded or high, dabbling in drugs until he began to scare even himself.

"My moment was when my best friend looked me in the eye and said 'Jose, you're becoming a drug addict.' It almost made me cry."

The urge is still there

"I really like to drink, I just don't let myself do it anymore," he says. "Nicotine and caffeine, that's what I'm trying to stick to. And a little bit of weed."

Now, he has Christina to look after.

They met on the UC Berkeley campus one afternoon last year. She was sitting on the grass, scribbling poems in her notebook. Jose didn't know Christina but had heard she was "crazy," full of energy and mischief.

"Now that I know her, I see her differently," Jose says. "Now I know her background."

Soon, they were inseparable.

"He's perfect," Christina says of Jose.

"She's one of the very few people I can talk to for hours and I don't get bored," Jose says.

"He gives me everything I want," Christina says.

"I wear the pants," Jose corrects. "You wear the skirt."

One day he wrote something on her hand.

"Will you marry me, yes or no?"

She paused, then penned, "Of course."

Jose worries about Christina. If she breaks a shelter rule and gets kicked out of YEAH for a night, Jose sleeps out with her. She's not safe alone, he says.

Jose and Christina talk about starting over in a new town. They'll catch a ride with some other street kids, go somewhere with new possibilities and fewer bad memories.

"I want to get a job," Jose says. "I want to be able to support Christina.

"That's my main goal, is to get off the street, take her with me."

Although he is homeless, Jose remains connected to Albany.

He stores a few belongings at his former house, earns a little cash helping his adoptive dad mow lawns. Nearly every day, Jose takes a bus from Berkeley to walk Kyleigh, the energetic yellow lab that belongs to a woman in the neighborhood.

Kerstin Feist pays Jose in cash, every day. He doesn't trust himself with a week's wages.

She watched Jose growing up and always liked talking to him. When he got sick this winter and ran a high fever, she took him in, tucked him into bed and bought him medicine.

"I just really care for him," Feist says. "I would do anything I could to help. He knows he can always come here."

In the afternoon, after Jose finishes work, he and Christina ride the bus somewhere -- to San Francisco, to the ocean, to Jack London Square in Oakland.

If it rains, they head to Dead Rat Beach to stay dry.

DRB, as it's known to the street kids, isn't a beach at all, but a run-down, 16-room Victorian in a marginal West Oakland neighborhood. It's not a squat, exactly -- a lease bears the names of a few tenants, and others who stay for any length of time chip in for the rent.

Dogs run in and out of the home. Broken eggs and empty food packages pile up on the kitchen floor. Amid the graffiti tags and obscenities that cover nearly every inch of plaster, someone has scribbled the number for a local lawyer who represents the homeless in civil rights cases. Except the number is out of date, someone explains, and no help in an emergency.

A letter from the landlady has been taped to the wall, threatening eviction for overdue rent and neighborhood complaints.

"Don't touch the fridge," warns Christina. "The power's been out for a while."

They may seem to be having a good time, joking around on the sidewalks of Berkeley.

But many of the homeless young people who stay at YEAH say they would rather have somewhere safe and warm to go, something to do each day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. when the shelter is closed.

"Do you know how slow the days go by?" Jay asks.

They tire of wandering around, getting hassled by merchants and ticketed for smoking, loitering or trespassing. No one wants them around, and some are eager to let them know that.

Some homeless youths spend their days in Berkeley's downtown library. Others lounge in People's Park near UC Berkeley. One enjoys sitting quietly in bookstores, reading the novels she can't afford, a chapter at a time.

Dinner at YEAH is served at 8 p.m.

Most nights, residents gather outdoors a half-hour earlier, smoking cigarettes, petting each others' dogs, rehashing their days or just silently listening to headphones, resting against the side of the wall.

A police car sometimes idles outside, watching for someone with warrants.

When dinner finally begins, the plain church dining room fills with energy and warmth.

Residents chat, goof around, play movies on a tiny old TV. Most plow through the hot meal, but some bring their own food -- fast food takeout, bottles of Mountain Dew. Once, when Christina grew tired of the shelter meals, she stole a roasted chicken from the grocery store and carved it with Jose's pocket knife.

Staff members and volunteers stay busy during dinner, chatting with residents, getting to know them.

That's the point, says Hawkins Leyden, the director: "To help them feel reconnected to an adult, which a lot of these kids have not been able to do because they were severely abused and neglected."

When someone accepts them as they are, Hawkins Leyden says, the youths can begin to imagine new possibilities, find new directions for their lives.

Other East Bay programs for former foster youths have rigorous structure, milestones with rewards and penalties. YEAH exists for those who haven't succeeded in that environment, who can't arrive sober every night or adhere to lots of regulations.

"We're not doing 'three strikes you're out' because there wouldn't be a kid in the room," says Hawkins Leyden. "We try to give them a way to earn their way back."

Rules remain minimal:
"For everyone's safety, please give your weapons to the supervisors," one item on the posted list reads. "They will be returned in the morning."

"Youth are responsible for their pets at all times," says another. "Supervisors may require a pet to be confined."

And finally: "PLEASE do not tag anywhere on premises."

People stereotype homeless youths as "bad kids." But what Hawkins Leyden sees is the good -- how they help each other out, how they always notice when she's having a hard day, how grateful they seem for the smallest kindness.

One evening at dinner, she celebrated a resident's birthday by setting a candle in a slice of cake. Quietly, he asked for her help. What comes next?

She talked him through it: Make a wish. Blow out the flame. Lick the frosting off the candle.
Sometimes at YEAH, a young person too exhausted to wait for bedtime pulls out a mat to doze on the dining room floor.

But most wait for church activities and 12-step meetings to clear out of their sleeping quarters, a large hall divided by mismatched sheets providing a small corner of privacy for the young women.

Residents lay out their mats and pillows early to reserve their spots, but most linger afterward in an adjacent supply room, fixing their hair, trading artful insults and waiting for the shared shower.

One night, when it's her turn, Christina grabs two clean towels and gives Jose a kiss.

Jose sits at the staff desk, spinning his chair and leafing through an outdated issue of US Weekly.
"Why are all these stars anorexic and sick?" he asks no one in particular.

"Because they're junkies," a friend answers succinctly.

As the clock pushes toward midnight, the group's conversation ebbs and wanes, losing participants now and then to the lure of sleep.

Christina emerges in her pajamas, hair wet.

"Come here, you," Jose says.

By way of response, she offers him a bottle of lotion.

"You want me to lotion your legs?" he asks. "It's not going to happen."

But a few minutes later, he is cheerfully rubbing in the moisturizer. Taking the polish she holds out, he paints her toenails blue, then gently brushes her hair.

"My sister taught me how to do all this (stuff)," he says. "I'm always pampering her."

"Always," Christina confirms.

She pulls on her slippers and proposes one last smoke before bed.

In the parking lots, Christina and Jose lean together, staring into the dark.

"I love you, my Creepy," Jose says, kissing her head.

She answers quietly. She loves him, too.

EPILOGUE: In April, a few days before Berkeley's Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel closed for the year, Hawkins Leyden helped several YEAH residents find housing; others resumed couch-surfing or camping out. Jose and Christina boarded a Greyhound bus and headed south.

How to help
Berkeley's Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel always needs money, volunteers, supplies, skills and ideas. Find out more by visiting or calling 510-704-9867. Monetary donations are tax-deductible; checks may be made out to YEAH and sent care of Lutheran Church of the Cross, 1744 University Ave., Berkeley, CA 94703.

U.S. Census Bureau plan to eliminate foster children from 2010 census statistics

Editorial: Inconvenient youth
San Francisco Chronicle, April 22, 2007, pg. E-4.

YOUNG PEOPLE in the nation's troubled foster-care systems are all too accustomed to inattention and indignities from bureaucracies that are supposed to be caring for them.

Even so, it's hard to imagine a more callous move than the one just pulled by the U.S. Census Bureau.

These stuck-inside-the-box bureaucrats have decided to stop counting foster children in the 2010 Census.


They wanted to hold the questionnaire to one page. In 2000, the U.S. Census offered 15 options to categorize an individual's relationship to the head of household -- including nine categories of relatives by blood and marriage and categories of living arrangements such as "unmarried partner" or "housemate, roommate."

One category was dropped to meet what the nation's head counters had decided was their all-important single-page goal. So they eliminated "foster child."

Their explanation was almost breathtaking in its defiance of the notion that young people in foster care -- placed there by the courts because their biological parents were either unable or unwilling to give them a home -- are our collective responsibility. The census bureaucrats' rationalization was that the "foster child" category was expendable because it was the one with "the fewest responses reported in Census 2000." There were "just" 334,974 children in that category, many of them taken from homes where they were abused and neglected.

"It's such a sad statement about foster youth and how much they matter," said Miriam Krinsky of the Children's Law Center of Los Angeles, a leading advocacy group for foster youth.

Beyond the symbolic significance are many very practical reasons why foster children should be counted in the census. The data allow policymakers to know who is in foster care and the conditions they live in. For example, the census allows us to know whether certain racial groups are disproportionately represented -- more than one-third of all foster youths in the 2000 Census were African American -- how many are living in poverty and how many are coping with physical or learning disabilities.

These insights are lost when the head of household is forced to lump a foster child into the category of "roomer, boarder," the most likely option for foster parents under the new census proposal.

John Burton, the former state Senate leader from San Francisco, said "We've been working with (House) Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and others in Congress" in an effort to build congressional pressure on the Census Bureau to reinstate the foster-care category.

"It's just another outrage perpetrated on these kids ... it's kind of like Don Imus picking on the Rutgers basketball team," said Burton, who now runs a nonprofit foundation in his name that helps children without homes through grants and advocacy. "Maybe they could have gotten away with this 10 years ago, but the issue of foster care and foster children has risen to a level the past four or five years that there's going to be hell to pay.

"I just hope the Census Bureau backs off."

On Tuesday, the House Information Policy, Census and National Archives subcommittee, which has oversight of the 2010 Census, is scheduled to hear testimony about the elimination of the foster-care category. While there are no Californians on the subcommittee, elected officials from the state with the largest number of foster youth should urge the chairman, Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., to use his clout to persuade the census bureaucrats to restore the foster-care category.

It is often been said that the once-a-decade census represents a "snapshot of America." No family portrait is complete without all of its children in it. Foster youth are our children, our collective responsibility. Their predicament is our challenge. They need to be counted.

Urge your representative in Congress to pressure the Census Bureau to count foster children. An online form to identify and contact your congressional representative can be found at

Someone's Somebody transformed into a one-woman play

From 'nobody' to 'Somebody'
Regina Louise's heartbreaking memories of being a foster child lead to a one-woman play at STC.

Roberts, Alison. Sacramento Bee, April 28, 2007, pg. K2.

Regina Louise rehearses at the Sacramento Theatre Company recently, preparing for her one-woman play, "Someone's Somebody." -Sacramento Bee/Michael A. Jones

Regina Louise's life story has followed a sweeping dramatic arc, from the darkest of loneliness to the spotlight of standing ovations.

After a childhood of belonging nowhere and to no one, bouncing from one foster-care placement to another (more than 30 all together), Louise prevailed to find happiness, acclaim and family love as an adult.

Now she is taking her story to the stage for the world premiere of "Someone's Somebody," opening in previews Wednesday.

It's a one-woman version of Louise's 2003 memoir, "Somebody's Someone: A Memoir" (Warner Books, 384 pages, $23.95). (The play title purposely swaps the words of the memoir's title.)

During a rehearsal in the lobby of the Sacramento Theatre Company, there is no special lighting or music to set the mood. But Louise's words, face and eyes deliver punch enough.

"I, Regina Louise, was a nobody's child," she says in rehearsal. It was the only rational conclusion she could draw based on her experiences, from a devastating chance encounter with a family member who didn't recognize her to a literary agent's request for a childhood photo, a normally commonplace memento she simply didn't have.

Peggy Shannon, STC artistic director and director of this play, works with Louise during the rehearsal, encouraging her in a way that makes one think of the nicest kindergarten teacher ever on a kid's first day of school. She even calls Louise "sweetie pie" at one point.

Louise, despite being in her 40s (she declines to be more specific about her age), has the manner of an attentive schoolgirl trying her very best, her eyes wide and bright, and sometimes filling with tears.

Purpose with the play
During a break from rehearsal, Louise talks about the little girl she was, the girl whose heart she is still working to mend.

"I owe that child," she says. "I wasn't marginal, and I wasn't retarded and all the other stuff in the file. All I wanted was someone to love me."

That little girl has kept Louise working hard. After her memoir's success, she started speaking on behalf of children in foster care, and finally she became a full-time advocate for them.

"I became obsessed with the idea that no child should have to wait half their life to say the word 'Mama,' " she says.

The play has taken on a role in Louise's advocacy work. While she's in town, she will deliver a keynote address at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Capitol, during a kickoff rally for National Foster Care Month in May.

Also, some children in foster care as well as those who work with them will be able to see the play, thanks to the sponsorship of the production by Casey Family Programs, a national foundation that has served children and families in the child welfare system since 1966.

Miryam Choca, the Casey director of California Strategies, says Louise's story embodies the greatest need in foster care: to create permanent bonds with caring adults for children in public care, whether through formal adoption or other means.

"Her story and the struggles that she experienced in foster care are pretty typical," Choca says, speaking by phone from San Diego, where she lives.

"A permanent lifelong connection, whether it's blood kin or not, is so, so important."

There are many stories like Louise's.
Close to 80,000 children live in foster care in California, about 4,300 of them in Sacramento County. Every year, more than 4,000 youths "age out" of foster care in the state. Last year, 284 kids aged out in Sacramento County. Often, they leave the system with little support or hope of success: Close to half of foster-care kids end up dropping out of high school, up to one-quarter are homeless, and about half are unemployed.

Bringing the memoir to the stage was itself a mini-drama within the larger drama of Louise's life. Friends had long suggested that Louise, a naturally gifted speaker who regularly brings audiences to tears, work on a theatrical version of her memoir.

When Shannon handed Louise a business card after hearing her speak at a charity lunch in 2005 in Sacramento, it felt as though fate were stepping in.

May is National Foster Care Month, led by Casey Family Programs, a foundation started in 1966 by United Parcel Service founder Jim Casey to help those in the child-welfare system. Here are some highlights of events marking the occasion in Sacramento.

• 2 p.m. Sunday: "In by Chance, Out by Choice," a special performance of a work by Kamika Whetstone, a former foster child. Music Recital Theater, California State University, Sacramento; $15, $10 for children and students; (916) 278-4323.

• 11 a.m. Tuesday: Kickoff Rally for Foster Care Month, north steps of the Capitol; free. Keynote speaker is Regina Louise. Other guests include actress Victoria Rowell, star of "The Young and the Restless."

• 7 p.m. Tuesday: Rowell will sign her foster-care memoir, "The Women Who Raised Me" (William Morrow; $25.95, 352 pages) at Borders Books, 2339 Fair Oaks Blvd.; (916) 564-0168.

• 5 p.m. Wednesday: Preview reception for the foster-care community, sponsored by Casey Family Programs, for "Someone's Somebody" by Regina Louise at the Sacramento Theatre Company. Free for anyone attending the preview performance at 6 p.m. at the theater, 1419 H St. (916) 443-6722.
For more information about these events, as well as ideas on how to assist children in foster care: click here or call (916) 503-2950.

Transitional living village, mentoring program and grant to aid in adoption of older children

Alameda County OKs funding to help foster care program
Fremont company receives money to match 20 children with mentors

The Argus, April 28, 2007.

Alameda County supervisors are putting money and muscle into programs for youths in foster care and for hard-to-adopt older children.

This week they did the following:
-Approved a $25,000, three-month contract with Be a Mentor Inc. of Fremont to match 20 foster children with mentors.

-Authorized a two-year, $1.8 million contract with Oakland-based Family Builders by Adoption to arrange adoptions and legal guardianships for children ages 9 and older.

-Signed off on a three-month, $35,500 contract with E.C. Reems Community Services to provide life skills training for 14- to 21-year-old males in or exiting foster care.

Chet Hewitt, director of the county's Social Services Agency, said about 2,724 are in foster care throughout the county.

Once they leave foster care at age 18, he explained, they often lack knowledge of life skills, experience and a support system necessary for a successful adulthood.

Without this backing, Hewitt said, these youth are at high risk for poverty, homelessness, crime, illness, early childbearing and a lack of education.

In March, as one way to address these needs, supervisors approved a $150,000 study to assess whether the Fred Finch Youth Center in Oakland is appropriate for a transitional housing complex for as many as 60 former foster children.

They would receive job and educational assistance, health care, and training in independent living skills if the village concept is approved and developed.

The county also has received a $1.8 million state grant, through 2009, to aid in adoption of older foster care children. This is the money that will subsidize the Family Builders by Adoption program.

The mentoring program will match foster youths ages 11 to 18, and former foster youths ages 19 to 24, with screened and trained volunteer mentors.

The after-school life skills program will include computer training, job application preparation, interview and money management skills.