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."