Saturday, June 30, 2007

Senate Republicans kill foster care bill
Lin, Judy. Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau, June 29, 2007.

Senate Republicans turned up the heat on budget talks by killing a Schwarzenegger-backed foster care bill Thursday on the grounds that it would continue unchecked state spending.

The state Senate voted 23-13 along partisan lines on Assembly Bill 845, which would have allocated $10.5 million for counties to provide temporary housing to youths after they leave the foster care system. Although Democrats hold a majority, they needed Republicans to get to a two-thirds majority of 27.

"We don't have a budget on time this year because we're billions of dollars out of whack because of hundreds of programs like this," said Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Penn Valley.

The move angered Democrats, who said Republicans shouldn't use some of the most vulnerable children in the state to make a statement about the budget. Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, called it a matter of "compassion and decency."

After the defeat, Perata said Democrats intend to shut down a committee today that has been trying to balance the budget so leaders can negotiate in private meetings.

The Schwarzenegger administration said it intends to negotiate for a funding increase for foster care in the budget.

The new fiscal year begins Sunday, and Republicans and Democrats have indicated they are not close to a budget deal. GOP members are seeking cuts beyond those proposed in May by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Democrats want to preserve social and welfare programs.

On Thursday, Republicans used AB 845 as an example of the Legislature's need to contain growth in programs, which they say has helped drive up the state's structural deficit. The Legislature's budget analysts have pegged the new fiscal year's operating deficit at $3.4 billion.
"We have a huge budget problem," said Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster.

But Democrats said it wasn't right to hold former foster children hostage, especially when leaders had already agreed to fund the program.

As part of last year's foster care reform package, Schwarzenegger, Democrats and Republicans agreed to remove a requirement for counties to match state funds as an incentive for counties to apply for transitional housing money.

At the time, the program was estimated to cost about $4 million. However, once the county match was removed, nearly all counties applied, increasing the tab to $10.5 million.

Had AB 845 been approved, it would have allowed county welfare departments to operate about 700 beds for former foster care youths between the ages of 18 and 24. Welfare officials say the bill's defeat means many counties won't be reimbursed for programs.

Backers say foster youths tend to need more help becoming independent adults because they tend to lack family support. Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, argued the program saves the state money by keeping young people from becoming the next generation of welfare mothers and prison inmates.

Runner, who said he has an adopted foster child in his extended family, said he supports the program but would rather see counties carry some of the cost. He said the state's tab could run up to $40 million in a few years.

Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association, said counties already pay more for foster care programs than the state requires.

Graduating foster children in need of extended services
Harlan, Sparky. San Jose Mercury News, June 28, 2007.

For years, advocates for youth in foster care have been fighting to get services extended beyond the age of 18. A solution seemed to be on the horizon. The Santa Clara County Social Services Agency, along with non-profit housing providers, foster parents, extended families, and colleges have been working together to create an innovative support system.

For the emancipated youth, it includes two years of help to learn the skills necessary to live independent, productive lives. Case workers will guide the youth and connect them with housing, job training, financial planning, education and other resources. This promising practice would help close a systemic gap that allows foster children to graduate into homelessness.

However, this progress was built on the governor's promise in January to provide $10.5 million for the development of transitional housing for youth leaving foster care. AB 845, introduced by Assemblywoman Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, would authorize the funding for this program. The legislation is heading for a Senate floor vote this week. Unfortunately, AB 845 is coming up short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass. A small number of Senate Republicans are threatening to block the commitment made by the Assembly and Gov. Schwarzeneggar to provide this support.

We can invest in our children now, or pay for them later when they fill our jails, emergency rooms and shelters. The answer seems simple, the right thing to do is also the cost-effective solution.

We can only hope senators like Abel Maldonado, R-San Luis Obispo, who has been a great supporter of services to foster children, will take leadership on this issue and rally support from his party. Now is the time to call and write your state senator or the minority whip to tell them how important AB 845 is to the future of hundreds of former foster youth.

With the intention of protecting them and improving their lives, children are removed from their families mostly because of abuse or neglect. However, most are not ready to assume their role as an independent adult at age 18.

A recent study of former foster youth revealed 25 percent end up as homeless adults, 50 percent are arrested and that nearly half of the young women became mothers and dependent on welfare within two to four years of emancipation. They deserve better from us. As wards of the state, these children are our collective responsibility.

June is a hopeful time for high school graduates. With a diploma in hand, many students are preparing to go off to college. Along with their parents, they attend college orientations and prepare to move into dorms for campus living. Other graduates plan to stay at home a few extra years to attend a local college or vocational training and, perhaps, work part-time to help pay for living expenses. But what if you had to turn your child out onto the street at 18, or the day after graduation, with no support or guidance?

Although it may sound absurd to most parents, this is exactly what happens for the over 100 youth who age out of the Santa Clara County foster care system each year. For youth in foster care, graduation means one thing: emancipation. The average foster youth has lived in 10 different foster homes by emancipation time. Because of the constant disruption of moving again and again, many foster youth do not graduate before they are cut loose from the system.

At emancipation time, foster youth lose their social worker and their foster home. Without the Senate vote, there will be no support system for youth leaving foster care in Santa Clara County and throughout the state.

They will graduate into a more challenging future.

Monday, June 25, 2007

State sees model in Indian-county alliance on foster care
DeArmond, Michelle. Press-Enterprise, June 22, 2007.

State and local officials said Friday that an alliance of Inland tribes and Riverside County agencies is a pioneer in the state's efforts to protect Indian foster children.

Inland tribal and local government leaders created the partnership two years ago to help keep Indian children with their tribes, even if not in their parents' homes. Now, a state commission is looking to Riverside County for ideas on how to help the more than 1,000 American Indian children in California's custody.

"This county is kind of on the leading edge," said Luke Madrigal, an alliance member and a member of the Cahuilla Band of Mission Indians near Anza.

Members of the alliance addressed the state commission Friday. The state Blue Ribbon Commission on Foster Care is charged with recommending better ways to care for California foster children and their families.

Members of the alliance, known as the Riverside County Tribal Alliance for Indian Children and Families, said they've made huge strides in improving communication between tribes and county governments and navigating culture clashes.

"It took the whole first year to develop trust," Riverside County Superior Court Judge Elisabeth Sichel said.

Sichel, a member of the alliance, said Friday that there is a history of nontribal governments lying to or neglecting their obligations to tribes.

Prior to the enactment of the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978, many Indian children were forcibly removed from their homes and became disconnected from their tribe and culture. The child-welfare act requires officials to try to place Indian children in foster or family homes within their tribes.

The act also requires government officials to notify a tribe if a child from that tribe is in the government's custody. The notification often didn't happen or didn't happen in a timely fashion, members said.

"Frankly, we were terrible with it," Sichel said at the three-day commission meeting at the Mission Inn in downtown Riverside. "We didn't even know who to contact at the tribes if we remembered to call."

Now the court system is building a Web site with information on how to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act and who to contact at each tribe, she said. Not all reservations have Internet capabilities to access the site themselves, she said, but the alliance has tried to reach out and build relationships throughout the area.

After a series of meetings throughout the county, which is dotted with 10 reservations, Sichel said the group is getting things done.

Mary Ellen Johnson of the Riverside Department of Public Social Services said her agency has started rolling out a new system that should help keep tribal governments informed about their members.

As of last week, tribes get phone calls letting them know if one of their children is in Riverside County's southwest court and that a tribal representative can participate in the proceedings.
The same practice soon will start in the county's court in Indio and then the one in Riverside, she said.

State Supreme Court Justice Carlos R. Moreno, chairman of the 42-member commission, said the kinds of systems that Riverside County is implementing are key to helping foster children receive consistent, proper care.

"We think that Riverside (County) is a leader in collaborating among the courts and agencies," he said.

The commission was appointed in 2006 by state Chief Justice Ronald M. George. The group's recommendations are due in spring 2008.

Green cards go unclaimed by many youths in foster care
Certain abused or abandoned dependents of the state are eligible for legal residency - b
ut not all know the law
Gorman, Anna. Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2007.

Abused children throughout California and the nation who are undocumented but entitled to green cards are frequently not receiving them — putting them at risk of deportation and drastically limiting their educational and work opportunities.

Under federal law, certain abused, neglected or abandoned dependents of the state are eligible for legal residency, but officials in many counties are unaware of the benefit. As a result, many youths leave foster care as illegal immigrants, social workers and advocates say.

After a childhood of abuse, Viridiana Garcia, 23, spent her teenage years in and out of group homes, mental hospitals and foster families. She should have received her green card and become a U.S. citizen years ago. Instead, Garcia, who lives with her 5-month-old twins in Santa Barbara County, is still undocumented.

"It's hard because I want to walk like a free person," she said. "I'm worried I might get caught and sent back to Mexico."

Congress passed the law in 1990 to grant legal status to several classes of vulnerable children.

Los Angeles County is among the few areas where the law works well, experts said. The county's program is seen as a model nationwide, because social workers, judges, immigration officials and pro bono lawyers work together to ensure that eligible juveniles get green cards.

But elsewhere around the nation, the law is not implemented as consistently, according to a 2006 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which supports programs that help vulnerable children and families. The report cited several problems, including unnecessary delays by immigration officials.

To get a green card, the youths must be unmarried, under 21 and abused, abandoned or neglected. Youths in dependency or delinquency proceedings or in Probate Court are eligible.

Though the government doesn't specifically track the number of young people who receive Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, 634 Juvenile Court dependents nationwide were granted permanent residency in 2004, 679 in 2005 and 912 in 2006, according to the Office of Immigration Statistics.

Advocates say they do not know how many more youths nationwide may be eligible, but estimates are in the thousands.

"If you look at the number of immigrants coming into this country and the number of unaccompanied minors coming into the country, it's shocking," said Sally Kinoshita, a staff lawyer at San Francisco's Immigrant Legal Resource Center who wrote a manual about the benefit. "The number of people who have received Special Immigrant Juvenile Status is not at all a reflection of the number that would be eligible for it."

The failures — though unwitting — are an abrogation of the counties' commitment to children they have brought into their welfare systems and agreed to help raise, said Ken Borelli, retired deputy director of Santa Clara County's Department of Children and Family Services, who helped draft the law.

"What are their options if their legal status isn't resolved?" Borelli asked.

To raise awareness, advocates and government officials are conducting training sessions for judges, social workers, lawyers and youths around the country, including in rural areas where immigrants are just beginning to settle.

"It just takes one person to identify that someone is eligible," said Kristen Jackson, a lawyer at Public Counsel in Los Angeles who has represented hundreds of juveniles.

Karen Grace-Kaho, ombudsman for foster care with the state Department of Social Services, said some undocumented foster youth may be better off in their native countries if they have supportive relatives. But many were brought to the U.S. when they were young and don't speak their parents' native language, Grace-Kaho said.

"That would be a severe hardship for them to go back to their country," she said.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tight controls on immigration, said the benefit was necessary for some children but added that green cards should be approved sparingly.

"Some judges are going to be somber, careful and use it as a last resort," Krikorian said. "Others are going to see it as an opportunity to do whatever they want to do."

Fany Almendarez received her green card last year, just before she turned 21. Raised in Honduras by her grandmother, Almendarez sneaked across the border as a teenager to live with her mother in Los Angeles. But soon after her arrival, she said, her stepfather abused one of her sisters and she was placed in foster care. Then her mother died of cancer.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

For local foster care teens, graduation blends hope and fear
Tintocalis, Ana. KBPS News, June 21, 2007.

Photo: Ortisha Jones is one of 24 San Pasqual Academy graduates.

A group of San Diego County foster care teens graduated today from San Pasqual Academy in Escondido. For the past four years the students have called the campus home. KPBS reporter Ana Tintocalis has more.

A song called Hope by hip-hop artist Twista played for two-dozen graduates after the ceremony. They picked this song because it’s about moving ahead in life despite coming from a broken home.

The graduates came to San Pasqual because they had no other place to go. Each day they've kept a structured schedule telling them when to eat, study and sleep.

Senior Andre Hickerson is grateful, but worries about the road ahead.

Hickerson: We're like in this small little area learning everything, then we're about to go in this huge world. You know what I mean. How's my life end up for the future? Will I be living or surviving? And basically it’s all on me, all the pressure is now on me.

Hickerson and the others have scholarships and plan to attend local community colleges and universities.

California Blue Ribbon Commission on Foster Care
San Diego Union Tribune, June 20, 2007

RIVERSIDE – A state commission appointed to identify ways the courts and child welfare agencies can improve service to California's estimated 80,000 foster care children will meet Wednesday for the first in a series of two-day meetings.

The California Blue Ribbon Commission on Foster Care is holding its sixth quarterly meeting in Riverside, with plans to confer with local judges, talk with members of the county's Department of Public Social Services and tour a women's prison, according to officials.

An opening night dinner is scheduled Wednesday night around 6:30 at the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa. The scheduled guest speaker is Riverside Superior Court Judge Becky Dugan.
The commission, appointed in March 2006 by state Chief Justice Ronald M. George, is halfway through its work and currently in a phase focusing on how to keep foster care youth from becoming long-term wards of the state, or slipping into a life of crime, according to Joni Pitcl, a commission spokeswoman.

She said one in five foster youth end up behind bars.

The commission will look at whether expediting the process of reuniting youngsters in the foster care system with mothers who have spent time in prison might prevent the unraveling of family bonds, Pitcl said.

“When appropriate, reunifying mothers with their children is best for the children and avoids their remaining in long-term foster care at significant cost to the state,” Pitcl said.

There is a planned visit Thursday to the California Institution for Women in Corona, where commissioners will see how the institution handles visitation between incarcerated mothers and their kids, according to Pitcl.

Tonight the 42-member commission will hear from Riverside County Department of Social Services officials who will explain how the county coordinates with local Native American tribes in making sure some 1,000 Indian children in foster care don't get caught in jurisdictional disputes.

“The county has really developed some innovative techniques the commission wants to learn more about,” Pitcl said.

In a statement released this week, State Supreme Court Justice Carlos R. Moreno, who chairs the commission, called the county's approach “pioneering.”

4,000 young people age out of the California foster care system each year

Program takes a personal approach with foster kids
Rooney, Julie. Enterprise, June 17, 2007.

They each started out as somebody's child.

Yet, every year more than 4,000 foster children in California turn 18 without a family to call their own. As they emancipate out of the foster care system, more than half leave with no high school diploma, no job and no place to live.

Sierra Adoption Services, a nonprofit agency in the great-er Sacramento Area, has one goal: Find a family for every waiting child. It's a task that involves finding permanent placement for not just babies, but older children, many of whom have experienced neglect and abuse in their short lives.

In 1992, the organization tried something new. They would put a face to the problem. They launched “Capitol Kids Are Waiting,” an exhibit on display in the rotunda of the state Capitol in downtown Sacramento that featured photos and biographies of 16 foster children. And an amazing thing happened. Within two months, all 16 children were adopted.

With the success of “Capitol Kids,” the agency began searching for other ways to share the stories and photos of foster kids.

“It's phenomenally effective to be able to make the individual children real, rather than making them just a statistic,” said Gail Johnson, Sierra's executive director.

Johnson recently approached The Enterprise and asked if we would help. And so today we begin “Waiting Child,” a monthly story that features foster children in need of permanent families. They are kids like today's featured waiting children, Jordan and LaRoysha, typical teenage girls in search of something most children never think about - an ordinary family life.

Displaying photos of foster children can come across as exploitive to some. But Johnson emphasizes that the children (who will be at least 11 years old) give their consent to be featured and are at the center of the planning process. They determine how their story will be told. While Yolo County foster children may be featured in other regions, they won't appear in The Enterprise, which could be an embarrassment to them.

Waiting no more
John and Mary's children are happy, well-adjusted kids. A year ago, John and Mary (fictitious names to protect the identity of their children) adopted a sibling set who had spent almost two years in foster care, shuffled from family to family.

The Davis couple say they always planned to adopt children. John grew up in a home where fostering children was common practice. Mary's family at one time considered adopting. While they weren't opposed to the idea of having a biological child, they wanted to make a difference for a child in need.

“Whatever life you can give these children is far better than what they would have gotten from the system,” John said.

Both feel even stronger today that adoption was the right choice, but caution that the transition is never easy.

“It's going to be difficult, but in a way if you look at the lives of these children you are there to go through these difficult times with them,” Mary added.

John and Mary take advantage of the agency's ongoing counseling services which are designed to support these new and often fragile families. There are numerous options, including sibling and parent support groups, and even a teen class called “Family Bound” that teaches children how to be part of a family - something many foster children need to learn.

While various services are offered during the adoption procedures, post-adoption services are also offered with various funding sources picking up the tab.

Families are eligible to receive an adoption subsidy to help with the cost of raising the child until he or she reaches the age of 18. All children are also covered by Medi-Cal insurance. As for costs to adopt a foster child, the program is completely free.

Changing the law
Even with programs like Waiting Child, the harsh reality is that not all foster children will find a permanent placement. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is doing her part to help foster children who “age out” of the system at 18. In May, she introduced the Foster Care Continuing Opportunities Act, legislation that would provide federal funding to states to continue providing essential foster care services, such as food, housing and legal services to youths over the age of 18.

The idea is to help these young adults transition from childhood to adulthood at a more gradual and appropriate pace.

“We must do more for these young adults who deserve much better,”
Boxer said in a written statement.

Boxer's legislation would allow states to access federal funding to match state and county funds to provide foster care payments and related administrative costs for foster youths 18 to 21, in the same fashion as youths under age 18.

It also would give states the option to offer foster care services for older youths and allow the youths to voluntarily elect to remain in foster care after the age of 18.

The hope is that the extended support not only will help these youths avoid homelessness but increase their chances of going on to college.

Exploring adoption
Is adoption in your future? The process begins with an application and home study, which take about three months. In addition to researching your history to ensure the child will be well cared for, Sierra Adoption works with the family to find the best fit.

“We want to find the right children for the families that we work for,” Johnson explained. “By the end of the home study process, we'll have a pretty good idea.”

To learn more about foster adoption, call Sierra Adoption Services at (916) 368-5114 or the California Department of Social Services at (916) 574-1333. To learn about some of the children who are seeking homes, visit

Plea to support foster parents by increasing reimbursement rates

Take care of those giving care
Scheer, Dan. Chico News Review, June 14, 2007.

Chico resident Dan Scheer is a social worker with a foster-family agency. He and his wife, Rebekah, are in the process of adopting two special-needs children in their care.

My wife and I made the decision to become foster-adoptive parents a few years ago. Both of our children are considered special-needs children, as they were prenatally exposed to drugs and alcohol. My wife has stopped working in order to be a stay-at-home mom for these wonderful children. This, of course, places a financial strain on our family in addition to the emotional, physical, and mental strain of raising two young children.

Both of our children have had specialized medical needs. We are committed to providing our children with a "forever family," if that is what the courts deem appropriate.

We speak to many individuals and families who share that they would not be able or willing to open themselves up to the trials of the adoption process.

Our family supports whatever incentives can be offered to adoptive families and adoption agencies that are working to help the thousands of children coming through social services in California. It is our understanding that a financial augmentation is being considered by the state Assembly. We cannot express how vital it is for us as an adoptive family to feel supported not only by our families, but also by our adoption agency, our county workers, and finally county and state governments.

There are many stories of governmental waste and misallocation of resources. Funds directed toward the abused, neglected, and abandoned children of our state and country are not only overdue, but also critically necessary.

The Legislature is processing a proposed 5 percent increase to the reimbursement paid to foster families. Governor Schwarzenegger has indicated that he is not likely to approve the cost-of-living adjustment because he wishes to have a balanced budget. These rates have not been increased in the past six years. I believe there should be a regular schedule of adjustments established in order to better meet the needs of those providing care to our needy and troubled children.

The cost of not supporting the foster parents, adoptive parents, foster children, and adopted children is one we can only theorize. The more positive, loving, supportive, healthy experiences these children have, the more likely they are to become healthy, productive citizens.

Foster parents and those who adopt are volunteers. They give of their time, money, space, and hearts to children in need. These mothers, fathers, and children need your support. You can support them by volunteering and getting involved, or calling our lawmakers and the governor to urge them to support these children and pass incentives for adoption and foster care.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

No funds for boys from LA County living in Canada with a relative

SF: Court nixes foster care payments to children in other countries.
CBS: San Francisco, June 7, 2007.

The California Supreme Court ruled in San Francisco today that the state can't give foster care funds to California children who are being cared for in another country.

The court said unanimously that Congress didn't intend funds to be sent outside the United States when it set up a foster care component of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children welfare program.

The program is jointly funded by federal, state and local governments.

The court issued its ruling in the case of two Los Angeles County boys, now ages 9 and 10, who were sent by the county and a juvenile court judge to live with their grandmother in Saskatchewan, Canada, because their mother had drug problems and could not care for them.

A court-appointed lawyer for the children sought to have foster care funding sent to the grandmother, who is a member of a tribal group called Ahtahkakoop First Nation and lives on a tribal reserve.

The California high court said that federal laws establishing the foster care program require that a foster care home must be licensed by the state in which it is situated and be subject to state supervision.

Justice Ming Chin wrote that Congress's failure to provide rules for foreign placements indicates that "children placed in foreign care in other countries are simply not eligible for federal financial participation."

The court overturned a ruling in which a state appeals court said juvenile court judges had the power to order such payments in another country if it is in the best interests of the children.

Foster homes are cheaper than residential placements

Capitol Watchdog: Foster care funding out in cold
California's low funding shifts wards into costly institutions designed for troubled kids as foster parents, including those in Orange County, leave the system.

Joseph, Brian. Orange County Register, June 7, 2007.

SACRAMENTO – When the state takes custody of abused or neglected children, the cheapest way to care for them is in a foster home.

That also happens to be the preference of child welfare experts, who say foster families provide greater stability than institutional facilities or intensive treatment homes.

The Legislature, however, has done little lately to support foster families, and as a result more and more of these kids are finding their way into more costly facilities designed for children with behavioral or emotional problems.

A key reason? Over the last seven years, the minimum cost of raising a child climbed to $750 a month while foster care payments huddled at about $494, according to the County Welfare Directors Association of California.

That's $126 less than the average kennel charges to house a dog, an association survey found.

"That's why so many people don't do it," said Rhonda Foster, a former Orange County foster parent trainer who says she's had more than 60 foster children live in her home over the years.

Foster said says families leave the foster care system or don't join it simply because they can't afford to provide the same care for foster children and their own kids.

"You can't keep a foster child at the same level as your own child. Not in Orange County."

Indeed, two studies released last month say the low rates have caused thousands of families to drop out of the foster system, which in turn has forced the state to put more wards in expensive facilities. The association reports 53 percent of the state's nearly 80,000 foster children live in treatment homes or institutional facilities, which cost $1,589 to $6,371 monthly per child.

In Orange County, 104 families, or 17 percent, have dropped out of the foster care system in the last four years. As of February, there were 2,792 children in foster care in Orange County. Some counties have lost half their foster care families.

A solution, of course, is to raise rates.

The association estimates it would cost $58 million to raise rates to $750 a month. The Legislature easily found money to pay for February's presidential primary, estimated to cost between $48 million and $80 million and which likely will feature a ballot measure to extend legislative term limits.

But children's welfare groups didn't even bother asking for that much money.

Instead, they supported a bill by Assemblyman Jim Beall Jr., D-San Jose, which would have cost $14 million to raise rates 5 percent and would have guaranteed rate increases in each of the next five years.

The bill also would have raised adoption assistance payments, rates for relatives providing foster care and set aside $25 million for a foster family support program.

Then, last month, it was killed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

"I was shocked," said Ed Howard, a lobbyist for the Children's Advocacy Institute, which is part of the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego School of Law.

Like many children's welfare advocates, Howard says the issue has fallen through the cracks because foster families are not an organized special interest that makes campaign contributions or lobbies on the Capitol.

"The moms and dads that open their hearts and homes to abused and neglected children are too busy taking care of them on our behalf to hire lobbyists," he said in an e-mail.

"But if just a tiny handful of legislators pledge that Sacramento business as usual will not endure so long as these parents are being abandoned by the state, then a policy that is both fiscally wrong and an attack on families would quickly come to an end."

To be fair, preliminary budget documents in the Assembly and the Senate call for a 5 percent rate increase as well, but the differences between those proposals and the Beall bill frustrate children's advocates.

The budget proposals include no support programs, no automatic increases, and no increases in kinship care or adoption assistance payments. They do include increases for institutional facilities and intensive treatment homes.

(Carroll Schroeder, executive director of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, which represents the institutional facilities and intensive treatment homes, said all of foster care is underfunded and it doesn't make sense to say one group of children deserves more money but not another.)

County Welfare Directors Association Executive Director Frank Mecca called the budget proposals a product of "the politics of parity" and said automatic increases for foster families have unfairly been lumped with the kind of autopilot spending the Legislature is often criticized for.

I asked Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, why this might be.

DeVore is one of the Legislature's most fiscally conservative members (he was among those to vote against the February primary) and he often rails against unnecessary spending and autopilot budgeting.

He also has not been involved in the foster care debate.

The Assemblyman agreed that foster families likely don't have the political resources to make their positions known.

"A widely dispersed group of foster families probably has a less effective lobby than a private business," like the institutional facilities, DeVore said.

That doesn't make the institutions villains. They're simply better positioned because of their finances and focus to traverse the tricky landscape of Sacramento politics.

That said, DeVore, a member of the Assembly Budget Committee, said arguments for increasing foster family rates seem to make sense from both a moral and fiscal perspective.

"It would seem to me that any policy that shifts resources from more cost-effective and better for the child to one less cost-effective and more difficult for the child should be revisited," he said.

Brian Joseph covers Capitol issues for the Register. His Capitol Watchdog column focuses on government practices. To reach him, call 916-449-6046 or e-mail

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Transitional youth need to be linked with available resources

Editorial : A helping hand
San Francisco Chronicle, June 3, 2007.

IT'S TOUGH enough for foster youths to fend for themselves when they "age out" of the system at 18. It's even more difficult for the estimated 15 percent of young adults leaving foster care with significant physical or mental disabilities.

Most of those young adults should qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) assistance, a federal program that provides $856 in monthly support for disabled people with limited income and meager assets.

But a helping hand is worthless if the potential recipients are unaware of it.

Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, a Santa Rosa Democrat who has emerged as one of the champions of foster-care concerns in Sacramento, has been pushing legislation that would require county welfare agencies to screen all foster youth at age 16.5 to determine which are eligible for SSI. Her AB1331, which advanced on a 17-0 vote in the Appropriations Committee, now goes to the Assembly floor for a vote this week.

California has a parental obligation to connect these children -- our children, our collective responsibility -- with resources that can help them in the difficult transition to life on their own. It's also a matter of fiscal prudence. Young adults who "age out" of foster care without a family support system are at high risk of being unemployed or becoming homeless -- and that risk is magnified for those with disabilities.

Regrettably, another very sensible Evans bill on foster care -- AB1330, which would have required the state to keep track of psychotropic drugs given to foster youth -- stalled in the Appropriations Committee because of the Schwarzenegger administration's concerns about its cost.

Foster care requires knowing how our children are being medicated and optimizing their odds of succeeding in life. Both AB1330 and AB1331 should be approved.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Shipping children out of county leads to group homes shutting down due to empty bed

Report criticizes O.C. foster care
Grand jury says practice of sending children to other counties makes it hard to reunify families, wastes money

Wisckol, Martin. Orange County Register, June 1, 2007.

One in four Orange County foster children gets shipped out of the county as a result of an emphasis on getting those kids into homes rather than group facilities.

But the out-of-county children might be better off in Orange County group facilities, which are closing down because of empty beds, according to a county grand jury report released Thursday.
The report acknowledges that the county has about half the number of children in out-of-home placement as similarly sized San Diego County. But the Orange County children, particularly those sent out of county, may be bearing the brunt of the policy, the grand jury report says.

The philosophy of the county's Children and Family Services is that "even mediocre foster care is better than the best congregate care," according to the report.

Calls to the county's Social Services Agency seeking comment on the report were not returned Thursday.

As of February, 722 of the county's 2,792 foster children were living out of county. This makes it more difficult for both family members and social workers to spend time with the children, the report says.

"Trying to reunify the family and child over a distance is difficult," it notes.

Social workers' caseloads are not adjusted to compensate for road time visiting children outside the county, meaning they have less time for each of the children they oversee, the report says.

Additionally, $1.5 million is spent on transportation that might be better spent elsewhere in the program, and local group facilities should be used more, the report says.

80,000 foster children in California

Califoria Political Desk

Evans Foster Care Reform Bill Moves to Assembly Floor
California Chronicle, June 1, 2007.

SACRAMENTO, CA) The Assembly Appropriations Committee passed a bill authored by Assemblymember Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), Chair of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, to help disabled foster youth.

Assembly Bill (AB) 1331 now awaits a vote on the Assembly Floor next week.

“Foster youth are our shared responsibility,” says Evans. “We need to enact reforms to take better care of them. I am committed to improving the quality of care that we provide to foster youth.”

AB 1331 requires county child welfare agencies to screen all foster youth at age 16 for a mental or physical disability and assist them in applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federal income supplement program for the disabled which provides a monthly cash benefit. Sponsored by the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes, the bill also allows youth with pending SSI applications to remain in foster care past their 18th birthday until their applications are processed.

“Disabled foster youth are entitled to receive this assistance,” says Evans. “They just need someone to help them apply for it.”

An estimated 15 percent of foster youth live with a serious physical or mental disability. There are nearly 80,000 children in California’s foster care system. Each year, over 4,000 youth “age out” of foster care when they turn age 18.

“Without these federal disability payments, foster youth are at risk for homelessness, unemployment, and chronic physical and mental health problems,” adds Evans.

Another one of Evans’ foster care reform bills, AB 1330, was held today in the Assembly Appropriations Committee due to cost implications on the state budget. It required the state Department of Social Services to monitor the use of psychotropic drugs by foster youth to determine if they are being overmedicated.

“I’m frustrated and saddened that the Administration inflated its cost estimates for collecting this data,” says Evans. “I will keep fighting this fight. Data from other states shows that a disproportionate number of foster youth take psychotropic drugs. But we don’t know how many of our foster youth are taking these powerful medications and why. Without this knowledge, we cannot protect our children in the state’s care.”

Further information about these bills is available online at