Thursday, November 22, 2007

Aging out sends many teenagers back to their abusive families

Open Forum: Our foster youth need support until age 21
Burton, John. San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 5, 2007, pg. E5.

For most young people, graduating from high school marks an important step forward in their life as young adults. For Sara, an 18-year-old in California's foster-care system, it resulted in a step back into her abusive past.

As a recent high school graduate, Sara was no longer eligible for foster care and stopped receiving the food, shelter and supportive services it had provided since she entered foster care at age 8. With no options available, Sara did what many youth who "age out" of foster care do: She returned to her family - the very family from which she was originally removed due to abuse and neglect.

In Sara's case, that meant moving back to her mother's East Oakland apartment, where her mother's heroin addiction was supported by a steady stream of paying customers and prostitution. Sara was locked out of the apartment for hours at a time and often returned to find that her few personal possessions had been stolen and sold. She worried about her personal safety and found it hard to sleep at night.

Her dreams of higher education were put on hold as she struggled to make it through each day. After several months living in this dangerous and chaotic environment, Sara decided she had to get out, thinking being homeless was better than being dead.

Sadly, Sara is not alone.

In fact, the number of youth who "age out" or "emancipate" from foster care is at an all time high, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts' Kids Are Waiting campaign, with 25,000 youth emancipating in 2005, up 41 percent since 1998. Here in California, more than 4,000 "age out" annually, a figure, which according to University of California at Berkeley's Center for Social Services Research, has matched national trends, growing 40 percent since 1998.

Like Sara, these young people face an uphill battle once they leave the foster-care system. According to research conducted by Professor Mark Courtney of the University of Washington, youth who left foster care by age 18 were nearly three times more likely than their peers to be out of work and school. They were twice as likely to be unable to pay their rent and were four times as likely to be evicted. Nearly half of the young women had been pregnant at least once by age 19. Significant numbers were incarcerated or homeless at some point.

In an effort to prevent these costly outcomes and give young people such as Sara a chance, several states have implemented a common-sense solution: extending foster care eligibility to age 21. California should do the same.

But there's an obstacle. Up to age 18, the federal government pays approximately 50 percent of all foster-care costs in California. After that, they stop contributing. Without the federal government's share, most states decide it's just too expensive to extend foster care for three more years, leaving children out on their own.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wants to change that. She has introduced legislation (S1512) that would offer states the option of providing foster care to older youth by extending federal funding to age 21. Organizations from around the country are signing on to support her proposal, including the American Bar Association, which will adopt a resolution to expand support for older youth in foster care at its annual conference held this week in San Francisco.

Three years may not seem as if it's a long time, but studies have found that it makes a world of difference. A 2005 report by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago found that youth who are allowed to remain in foster care beyond age 18 were 200 percent more likely to be working toward completion of a high school diploma and 300 percent more likely to be in college than youth who left foster care at age 18. They were also more likely to be insured, have better mental health and far less likely to be victims or perpetrators of crime and violence.

Supporting foster care until age 21 is particularly important in terms of preventing crime and reducing the expense of incarceration. A 2007 study from the University of Chicago concluded that both male and female former foster youth are ten times more likely to be arrested since age 18 than youth of the same age, race and sex. According to the California Budget Project, the associated costs of these arrests and incarcerations are considerable, with the per capita cost of adult incarceration in California in 2006 reaching $43,287 annually.

Given the crisis in the California prison system, supporting foster youth until age 21 is one practical way to stem to flow of youth into the adult correction system.

Expanding support for youth in foster care until age 21 also reflects a growing demographic trend: longer-term support of young adults is a fact of American life. How many parents today cut off their child entirely at age 18? Not many, according to the Pew Research Center, which found that more than half of adult children receive an average of $3,410 annually from their parents until age 40. Studies by the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago show the same thing, particularly during the early years of young adulthood through age 26. We've all heard about the phenomenon of "boomerang kids," adult children who move back in with the parents in their 20s and 30s.

It's hard enough to make it on your own these days, especially as an 18-year-old in the Bay Area. We don't cut off our own kids at that age, and the foster-care system shouldn't do it, either. These young adults are in foster care through no fault of their own. We owe it to them, and to Californians who foot the bill for more prisons, to make the best decisions in their interest. Sen. Boxer's proposal to expand foster care until age 21 makes perfect sense and is the right thing to do.

- John Burton, former president of the state Senate, now chairs the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Policy allows kinship care providers to be legal guardians, rather than adopting

A small triumph for children in foster care: Legislation recognizes that family ties, even when there are problems, are important in a child's life.
Banks, Sandy. Los Angeles Times, Nov. 10, 2007.

It's easy to be outraged about the news this week that county welfare workers have been stealing goodies -- gift cards, theater tickets and other treats -- intended to brighten up the lives of foster kids.

It's not so easy to get worked up over, or even understand, the complex institutional roadblocks that really make life difficult for foster children.

The foster care system operates under a shroud of secrecy in the name of protecting children's privacy. Families' official stories are generally off-limits to the public, so we report mainly on the scandals, as my colleague Jack Leonard did this week, or the tragedies.

Every story and column I've ever written about foster kids, the parents who let them down, the families who took them in, has unearthed a flood of emotional appeals from anguished families trapped in a system that appears at worst corrupt, at best callous and inept.

They beg me to intervene. But there's rarely anything I can do. I add their letters to my "foster care" file -- two giant boxes, bulging now -- and keep my eyes open for ways to share the gist of their stories.

When stolen "Wicked" tickets made headlines this week, I thought about a foster care story that didn't: a new policy signed into law last month that will make it easier for children taken from their parents because of abuse or neglect to find permanent homes with relatives.

I think it's a small triumph, for once.

More than half of the children removed from their parents in Los Angeles County are placed with relatives. But because of policies requiring social workers to find them adoptive homes, family members have risked losing the children to strangers if they weren't willing or able to adopt them.

Family dynamics often make that complicated. Adoption permanently severs a birth parent's rights, forcing relatives to give up hope that Mom will stop using drugs or Dad's anger management classes will take root and the family can be made whole again.

Rosalynn Barr didn't hesitate two years ago when a cousin asked her to take in her two young daughters -- a toddler and an infant -- who were living in separate foster homes. Barr had watched the cousin's older children cycle between relatives' homes and foster care for years.

A few months after the girls moved in with Barr, her husband and their two children in Long Beach, "social workers started telling us we had to adopt the kids or they'd take them away from us," she said. The toddler's former foster mother wanted to adopt the toddler, but not the infant. That meant the sisters would have to be split up.

Barr was willing to adopt, but her husband wouldn't consent. That left her squeezed between two sides: her own extended family "thinking I didn't love the kids enough to adopt them," and her husband, who was happy to raise the girls but didn't want to risk legal complications over inheritance when all four children became adults.

The couple asked instead for guardianship -- a popular middle ground for relatives. Guardians have the same legal rights and responsibilities as parents. They receive monthly stipends to help with the child's care, as do parents adopting from foster care.

But until now, in the eyes of foster care officials, guardianship was considered second-class parenting.

"I was made to feel like a bad person because I couldn't adopt," said Barr, who spent a year fighting to keep her little cousins. "Like their future was in my hands and I'm just throwing them away. I would sit at work and cry, afraid they might take the girls away."

The new legislation tilts the scale in a family's favor. It says simply that foster care officials cannot use a relative's preference for guardianship as the only reason to take a child and put him or her up for adoption.

It recognizes that family ties -- even when the family is tainted by dysfunction -- can be an important touchstone in a child's life.

For years, relative caregivers had few rights. They'd get kids dumped on their doorstep with little warning by a system that offered no financial help, no standing in court, no information about services to help them deal with children traumatized by abuse or suffering from neglect.

Children's advocates say the unfit parent's misdeeds often led to a bias against their families. "The attitude has been if the parent you're looking at had problems, the apple didn't fall far from the tree," said Kevin Campbell, whose research into the importance of family ties has helped changed that attitude.

Now California -- which has a higher percentage of its foster children living with relatives than all but two other states -- has a policy that reflects the change. And thousands of foster children stand to benefit.

Barr's two girls are now 4 and 2, "and I'm their mom for as long as they'll have me," she says. "We've got a connection, something to give them. We're a branch on their family tree."

Hillsides Toy Drive for Foster Children

Toy Drive for Foster Care Charity Starts Holiday Giving
November 10, 2007

Pasadena, CA -- The holidays are a joyous time for families to celebrate the true meaning of the season. For foster care children living at Hillsides, the holidays stir up stress, anxiety, and depression. When Christmas finally arrives, the pain of not being with their families is lessened by the generous support Hillsides, the foster care children’s charity, receives from the community, including businesses like HealthWorks Chiropractic.

Uniting innovation with the latest techniques in natural medicine to deliver optimum care for one’s whole body, HealthWorks Chiropractic gives the community special offers for bringing an unwrapped toy for a foster care child.

Pasadena chiropractor Phil Ricchiazzi offers patients, who make an appointment to come in between December 3 and December 19, a free spinal assessment and free 15-minute massage in exchange for an unwrapped toy or children’s book valued less than $25. An initial consultation and initial exam will be free ($250 value) to patients who donate toys valued at $25 or more. All scoliosis screenings for children age 8-16 are at no charge.

“This would be a great opportunity to introduce a friend or member of your family to chiropractic,” said Dr. Ricchiazzi. “You may also take advantage of this offer yourself. Help us meet our goal of being a top contributor to Hillsides.”

Other businesses, organizations, or churches wishing to sponsor a Hillsides’ toy drive for foster care children at their establishment can request a red bucket adorned with a Hillsides’ display sign and information cards.

“While Hillsides strives to give children new traditions and experiences that will create happy memories, we can only do this with the support of the community who helps provide the extras for our children,” said Laura Kelso, Hillsides’ director of community resources. “We hope you’ll include foster care children this holiday season.”

As a Pasadena foster care charity founded in 1913, Hillsides creates safe places for children at risk and their families by providing residential care, mental health services to break the cycle of domestic violence, special education, and advocacy. Hillsides encourages individuals to support its effort to provide holiday toys and wishes to these children and others at risk in the community.

Red buckets are delivered to place of business or can be picked up at Hillsides’ campus anytime before December 2. Red buckets with unwrapped toys should be delivered to Hillsides by December 20.

For more information:
Call Kelso at 323-254-2274, ext. 251 or visit

To schedule an appointment at HealthWorks Chiropractic between December 3 and 19, call Dr. Ricchiazzi at 626-698-0655 or go online at

About Hillsides
As a Pasadena foster care charity founded in 1913, Hillsides creates safe places for children at risk and their families by providing residential care, mental health services to break the cycle of domestic violence, special education, and advocacy. To learn more about Hillsides, visit

New Youth and Family Transition Center in San Diego

Youth & Family Transition Center opens in San Diego

On Oct. 4, Casey Family Programs’ San Diego office held an open house to celebrate its newly renovated office and the opening of the new Youth and Family Transition Center. Over 100 guests participated in the event, including San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox.

The transition center seeks to enhance the field office’s collaborative reach in support of Casey’'s goals for the year 2020. It will improve local youth and families’ access to community resources by offering a comprehensive array of services at one location.

The center'’s services include education and job counseling, money management workshops, personal identity and cultural development opportunities, housing assistance, and mental health groups.

For more information, please contact the Youth & Family Transition Center at (619) 683-5667.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Update on Melinda Smith case

Update on the Melinda Smith Foster Care Case
Men's News Daily, Oct. 4, 2007.

Background: The Melinda Smith/Thomas Smith Los Angeles foster care outrage is one of the most egregious child welfare injustices I've ever seen. In my co-authored column, Choosing Foster Parents over Fathers (San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/11/07), I explained:

"In the heartbreaking Melinda Smith case, a father and daughter were needlessly separated by the foster care system for over a decade. Last week, Los Angeles County settled a lawsuit over the case for an undisclosed sum...

"Smith was born to an unwed couple in 1988. Her father, Thomas Marion Smith, a former Marine and a decorated Vietnam War veteran, saw Melinda often and paid child support. When the girl was four, her mother abruptly moved without leaving a forwarding address. Two years later, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services found that Melinda’s mother was abusing her. Though the social worker for the case noted in the file that Thomas was the father, he was never contacted, and his then 6-year-old daughter was placed in the foster care system.

"Thomas--whose fitness as a father was never impugned nor legally questioned--continued to receive and pay his child support bills. Authorities refused to disclose his daughter’s whereabouts, and didn’t even inform him that his daughter had been taken by the County. Smith employed private investigators and attorneys to try to find Melinda and secure visitation rights, but he eventually ran out of money.

"Rather than allowing Smith to raise his own daughter, the system shuttled Melinda through seven different foster care placements. An understandably angry child, her outbursts led authorities to house her in a residential treatment center alongside older children convicted of criminal activity—when she was only seven years old.

"Melinda says that during this period she was told that her father was a 'deadbeat dad' who had abandoned her. When Melinda was 16, she told an investigating social worker that the 'most important thing' for her was to find her dad. Moved by her story, the social worker began searching for Melinda’s father--and found him in one day. In 2005, Thomas and Melinda were finally reunited."

The terms of the settlement in this case are revealed in a recent Los Angeles Daily News article, and apparently Smith is going to receive $225,000 from Los Angeles County. I don't know much about how these settlements are done, but I'm surprised--Smith should be paid millions for what was done to his little daughter. I know it's comparing apples and oranges, but it seems particularly low in light of the millions that Los Angeles County had at one point agreed to pay former firefighter Tennie Pierce over a questionable racial harassment complaint.

As part of their agreement with Smith, the County generously agreed to "forgive" Smith's fake child support debt, not one dime of which should he ever have been asked to pay. Moreover, much of the "debt" piled up after Smith and his daughter were already reunited, as the County still kept sending him child support bills.

The Daily News article by Troy Anderson, who has done a good job in his pieces on this case, is below.

Child-support case may be settled
Father would get $225,000 from county
By Troy Anderson

A decorated Vietnam War veteran who spent more than a decade searching for his daughter would be paid $225,000 by the county, which mistakenly allowed him to pay child support for the girl although she was in foster care, under a settlement recommended Monday.

The Los Angeles County Claims Board recommended the payment to settle a lawsuit filed by Thomas Marion Smith, who was never told that his young daughter had been taken away from his ex-wife and placed in foster care. The Board of Supervisors will vote on the settlement Oct. 16.

"This is a landmark case having a profound impact on the system," said Smith's attorney, Linda Wallace. "At the point of entry, county departments are now notified to make sure children are not lost in the system."

Lisa Garrett, chief deputy director of the Child Support Services Department, said her agency is working to improve communication with the Department of Children and Family Services to avoid a recurrence of the Smith case.

Smith's suit claims that county employees were negligent for failing to notify him that his daughter was in foster care. Had he known of the girl's whereabouts, he would have obtained custody of his daughter and eliminated the need for county intervention.

Severely disabled foster youth

Bill to Provide Critical Support to Disabled Foster Youth Passes; Awaits Governor's Signature Coastal Post,10/4/07

Sacramento, CA- Severely disabled foster youth may begin receiving critical income support upon emancipation out of foster care if legislation that was passed by the Assembly and the Senate early this morning is signed by the Governor.

The legislation is Assembly Bill 1331, authored by Assemblymember Noreen Evans, would create a safety net for severely physically and mentally disabled foster youth who are exiting the state's foster care system by requiring county child welfare agencies to screen all youth at age 16 for a mental or physical disability and apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for those who are likely to qualify. SSI is a federal program that provides monthly cash benefit to our nation's most vulnerable: disabled children and adults with limited or no income.

According to Staff Attorney Angie Schwartz of the Public Interest Law Project in Oakland, up to 15% of these youth suffer from a serious physical or mental disability, and yet the vast majority of these youth are exiting foster care without SSI in place. "Without financial supports in place, these youth will likely become homeless or incarcerated, beginning a chronic cycle of poverty. We can stop this cycle by ensuring that youth emancipate with the critical support of SSI."

"SSI is a critical resource for youth leaving foster care that are too disabled to work, often because of the very abuse or neglect which landed them in care at the outset. However, many leave foster care without SSI in place because currently no one is charged with assessing foster youth for eligibility for SSI and assisting youth with the arduous application process," according to Attorney Laura Streimer, from the Alliance for Children's Rights, which together with the Public Interest Law Project, California Child Welfare Director's Association and the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

"With this legislation, California is on the forefront of providing the support and aid that severely disabled foster youth need to make a safe and successful transition out of foster care," says Cathy Senderling, Legislative Advocate for the California Welfare Directors Association. While many other states have made some effort to screen and assess foster youth for SSI eligibility, "California will be the only state that will ensure that these benefits are in place at the point of emancipation, when foster youth really need the assistance."

"This legislation is not only good policy, it is a cost savings. Homelessness, incarceration and unemployment have real costs for the taxpayers of California," according to Amy Lemley, Policy Director of the John Burton Foundation. "Failing to help foster youth with disabilities make a successful transition is short-term thinking that is irresponsible and expensive."

The Governor has until October 14th to sign AB 1331.

More money spent to kennel a dog than to house a foster child???

Foster care pay is called inadequate
Federal suit says it costs more to kennel a dog in California than the state gives to families who take in wards. A report also criticizes the state.
Rothfeld, Michael. Los Angeles Times, Oct. 4, 2007.

California is rapidly losing families willing to care for foster children because its payment rate lags far behind the cost of living and is lower than the price to kennel a dog, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday that mirrored the findings of a new national study.

The lawsuit was launched by a coalition of advocates for foster families in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on the same day that the analysis by the University of Maryland showed that California has fallen far behind in caring for its most vulnerable wards.

In dollar to dollar comparisons, California, which has 75,000 foster children -- more than any other state -- ranks in the lower half of states in paying families to care for them. But when adjusted for the cost of living, California's ranking drops even further.

The analysis found that the state's $425-a-month reimbursement rate to care for a 2-year-old was 61% too low -- or $260 a month too little -- to meet the costs of food, clothing, shelter and other basic needs prescribed by federal guidelines. The $597 a month paid to care for a 16-year-old child was 44% too low, the study said.

Kennels charge about $620 a month to house a dog , the lawsuit said, citing a survey taken last year.

The study compared this year's foster care family rates in each state and Washington, D.C., with the estimated cost of caring for a child in each region based on consumer spending data. California ranked below average in the gap between the foster care rates and the actual cost of providing care for children in all three age categories analyzed; it ranked 36th in providing adequate funding for 2-year-olds, 30th for 9-year-olds, and 26th for 16-year-olds, the study said.

The state had not changed its foster care rate for six years, although a 5% rate increase is scheduled to take effect in January. In roughly the same period, the number of foster families plunged in many counties, including 21% in Los Angeles County and 61% in San Bernardino County, according to a study in May. There are about 19,000 licensed foster families statewide, advocates say.

Shirley Washington, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Social Services, said the agency disputes the University of Maryland data. She said the state estimated the average foster care payment was $680 a month, increasing to $715 in January, counting extra money paid for children with disabilities and other special needs.

The lawsuit and report, however, suggest that more needs to be done to stabilize the lives of children, to reunite them with their families or to help them find new ones. Advocates have mounted an aggressive campaign by pushing legislation in Sacramento and in Washington, where U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has proposed a measure to provide federal funding for states that want to keep children in foster care until age 21.

"It's a system that is completely overextended and underfunded, and it needs some real rethinking about what exactly our intention is when we bring young people into care," said Janet Knipe, executive director of California Youth Connection, a statewide group that trains foster children as advocates on the issue.

The suit and study emphasized that the funding shortfall for foster families drives children into more expensive institutional settings such as group homes, where they are less likely to find stability in their relationships or education, and more likely to embark on their own at age 18 without having forged permanent emotional bonds. The result is that many enter adulthood at risk of becoming homeless or ending up in the criminal justice system.

"These children end up in more restrictive settings where they will age out with not a soul in the world," said Regina Deihl, executive director of Legal Advocates for Permanent Parenting, one of three plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "We want to allow our kids to have the most normalized kind of life, preferably in their own home community, and to be able to stay in their own school."

The lawsuit, naming Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's social services director, John Wagner, and Deputy Director Mary Ault, contends that the state is violating the federal Child Welfare Act by failing to meet the costs of caring for foster children. Larry Bolton, chief counsel for the Department of Social Services, blamed state lawmakers for failing to appropriate more money.

Aides to the Democratic leaders in the Legislature and to Schwarzenegger said they all had fought for increases in foster care funding, as well as for bills aimed at improving the system.

Jonathan Pearson, 25, a former foster child who is the legislative and policy coordinator for California Youth Connection, said there had been some progress but that reducing the time children spend in foster care remained a priority for his group's members.

He said that after he was placed at age 12 in foster care because of abuse by his father, he went through nine foster care placements, "bouncing around from home to home, changing from school to school." At age 16, he found the foster father and brothers he now considers his family.

Among the 12 foster care bills approved by the Legislature and awaiting Schwarzenegger's signature is a measure by Assemblywoman Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) that would require counties to apply for federal disability assistance on behalf of foster children who qualify. Such assistance would provide them with more than $850 a month to live on after they are emancipated at 18.

Inspire Life Skills Training for former foster children

Nonprofit group reaches out to former foster-care children
Saucedo, Juan. Press-Enterprise, Oct. 3, 2007

Riverside, CA - Children who have moved through the foster-care system might find it hard to draw inspiration from their surroundings.

But Kristi Camplin, of Corona, has found a way to motivate former foster-care youths through Inspire Life Skills Training, a nonprofit group in Corona.

The group will hold its second annual fundraising Make a Difference dinner and auction at 5 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Lemonia Grove historical home at 2750 Rimpau Ave., Corona.

"The more money we raise the more youths we can help," Camplin said in a phone interview.

Fewer than 10 percent of foster kids go to college and half end up homeless after turning 18 years old, she said.

Camplin founded Inspire in 2005. She said the group promotes education as the key to change for former foster-care clients.

Inspire provides the opportunity to attend vocational school or college full-time while living in a safe and affordable home. The group serves clients ages 18 to 21 from Riverside and Corona, Camplin said.

The students are given counseling and mentoring to help them make the transition to self-sufficiency. Inspire also covers the medical bills of some of the young people who don't have insurance, Camplin said.

The organization receives no government funding and relies on support from businesses, individuals, churches and service clubs.

"The community is very supportive ... they're really behind us," Camplin said.

About 225 people attended last year's event.

A year ago the group had five women in the program. This year the group is helping 11 women and two men, Camplin said.

"A lot of the kids are new, so they don't know what to expect," she said. "I told them that they need to see the people who support them."

Camplin said the dinner and auction are sponsored by Soroptimist International in Corona, a group of local business women who come together for charitable reasons.

Tickets are $50. Information: 951-316-0011 or

Reach Juan Saucedo at 951-893-2101 or

University of Maryland releases study; alleges inadequate funding

Inadequate pay for foster care?
Oct. 4, 2007

Bakersfield,CA,USA - The study released by the University of Maryland is causing concern for the entire foster care structure in California.

The lawsuit alleges that a decreasing number of families are able to care for foster children as the payment rate falls far behind the cost of living.

The Coalition's suit is aimed at the head of social services in California saying that the state is violating the Child Welfare Act by failing to provide foster families with appropriate funding.

We asked the Kern County Department of Human Services how much each local family is given per child.

They told us the state mandates that amount and it varies depending on medical need and special circumstances of the child.

The average amount per child from ages zero to four is $425 a month not counting an annual clothing allowance or special care increments.

The Department of Human Services says they expect the amount per child to increase as much as five percent beginning next year.

We did speak to some foster parents who told us the money is not ideal but that it helps.

They did point out that if a family wants to take a child to Disneyland or on vacations it's all out of pocket.

Former foster child makes a wonderful foster mother

Miss Carbonell goes to Washington
Best, Jennifer. Los Angeles Times, Sept. 21, 2007

Santa Maria, CA - As a foster child, Joscelynn Carbonell heard all the assumptions.

“People say foster children are troublemakers, thieves, promiscuous, that they use hard-earned tax money, look for easy handouts. I had friends whose parents wouldn't let me play with them anymore once they found out I was a foster child,” said Carbonell.

Now 22, well-spoken and widely traveled, Carbonell is in her last term at Allan Hancock College. She also serves as an outspoken advocate for foster children and the programs that support them. Wednesday she spoke in Washington, D.C., in favor of House and Senate bills supporting kinship care, particularly among the Latino population.

Currently, Carbonell explained, the foster care system provides monetary, social and other support to foster families, but there is no similar support for kinship care - foster care provided by relatives of a minor when their own parents, for whatever reason, are no longer able to provide that care.

“If they're willing to provide support to families who will take in strangers, why won't they provide that support for families who are willing to take in their own relatives in times of need,” Carbonell reasoned.

This week's emphasis on the Latino population stems from the culture's tradition of maintaining close family ties which often lead relatives to care for their extended families, but her focus usually spans all cultures.

“Every group has a culture. Your family has a culture of its own, traditions of its own, whether you're Filipina or Latina or African-American or white. What matters most is that children are given a loving environment, no matter what else their culture provides,” Carbonell said.

The Santa Maria native entered the foster care system at age 8 when she was taken in by Sue Crowley, a 25-year veteran of the foster system. While some foster children shuffle from one foster situation to another, Carbonell said she “was blessed” to have a stable home with Crowley.

My foster mother is amazing. She's one reason I'm as successful and stable as I am. My two greatest influences have been my foster mother and my faith,” Carbonell said.

Shortly before she turned 16, Carbonell got involved in the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County's Independent Living Program at Hancock. The program is designed to help foster care youth achieve self-sufficiency as they transition out of the foster care support system. It includes mentoring as well as daily living, survival, interpersonal and computer skills. The program also helps participants with college and job applications and to establish independent living situations.

In 2002, Carbonell graduated from Righetti High School and moved to Hawaii to attend a bible college and live with her own sister. She later returned to Santa Maria to attend Hancock College and intern with ILP. She also interned in Los Angeles with Metrokids and is currently interning with Foster Club, a national network for young people in foster care. She looks forward to transferring to a four-year university where she plans to major in speech communication and minor in psychology.

"She's an amazing kid. You can count on her for just about anything. In spite of what she's been through in life she's made the system work for her. She's probably why I'm still doing it. I've watched these kids' lives as they've grown, and she's one of the success stories,” said Crowley, who has served as long-term foster parent for more than 20 children and sheltered hundreds of others.

“Some kids really fight the system, they don't want to be involved in the foster program, but she's always made the most of it,” Crowley said.

Early on, Carbonell discovered special programs that were available to her because of her status as a foster child including internships, travel opportunities and scholarships.

“The county has a lot to offer and foster parents have a lot to offer too, but you have to work with the system: you have to attend school, you have to stay out of trouble,” Crowley said. “Instead, too many of the kids are so anxious to get away from the system that they miss the opportunities that are provided just for them.”

Ultimately, Carbonell would like to start a California Youth Connections chapter in Santa Barbara County. The statewide nonprofit foster youth advocacy program led by current and former foster youth provides a voice for foster children. They advocate for legislation supporting their needs, provide education and peer support.

“The more we can give youth a voice, the more power they will have to change the system to help future foster children,” she said.

She would also like to open an art center for youth, particularly foster youth and others in need of additional support and mentorship. She sees the center as a place for youth to express their various artistic talents, from music to poetry, dance to DJ.

“These kids express themselves through art because they have no other outlet. No one hears them any other way,” she said. “Having a place where they are free to explore their art also might give them a step up on scholarship opportunities those talents might provide them.”

But more immediately she'd like to find more support for foster families, and more foster families to serve area children in need.

“I'd like to see foster parents being treated better, with more respect and more credit for what they do,” she said.

For questions about becoming a foster parent and or an adoptive parent, contact the Foster Parent information line at (866) 899-2649.

California needs more Muslim foster parents

Community needs Muslim foster homes
Eshmawi, Roqaya. In Focus, Oct. 8, 2007.

LOS ANGELES – Seven years ago, Humera Hameed and her husband decided they wanted to become foster parents.

"We had heard about Muslim children who were taken away from their Muslim families and put into Christian homes where they had bad experiences," she said.

"My husband and I were very touched by this. We thought about what would happen to our children if they were put through the same situation. It changed our outlook on foster parenting."

Two years later, the family welcomed two children into their home, a 14-year-old Muslim boy and his 6-year-old Muslim sister.

When the boy first came to live with them, they could tell he was bright and talented, but he wasn’t doing very well in school, Hameed said.

"He really picked up his grades afterward," she said. "He was very talented in music, so we had him join music lessons at school, and we encouraged him as he practiced."

The boy and his sister lived with Hameed’s family for a year before they were returned to their mother.

"Whatever you do, you’re just a foster parent," Hameed said. "It’s what the system thinks is best for the children. At that point, it was decided that the mother was ready to have the children back, so they went back to her."

Family Solutions, a nonprofit agency licensed by the state to certify foster parents, is currently searching for foster homes for several Muslim children.

Also collaborating are New Star Family Center, UPLIFT Charitable Corporation and ACCESS California Services – nonprofit agencies that offer social services to the community.

When children in the area are first taken out of their homes, they are placed in Orangewood, a temporary shelter, until a foster family can be found, said Tori Mohmand-Farhad, programs director for Family Solutions.

"Depending on how long it takes to find them a home, they could be there for up to a month, which is the maximum allowed," she said, adding that the shelter welcomes children ranging from newborns to 18-year-olds.

While Mohmand-Farhad said it is fortunate that not many Muslim children are removed from the care of their families, she added that it does happen a few times a year, and her agency currently doesn’t have Muslim foster families.

"Unfortunately, the only time our community is able to come on board is when there’s a crisis," she said.

"Right now, these kids are in the system, and we need to find homes for them. We went out to one of the masjids and found families who are interested and who will go through the process of becoming certified."

Through ongoing recruitment, she said, she hopes more Muslim families will become certified.

Foster parenting is when an individual is interested in providing stability for a child who has been removed from the care of his or her family due to a situation in which the biological parents are no longer able to care of the child. According to experts, this is many times due to abuse or neglect.

When a child is taken out of the home, the first option is for relatives to care for them, Mohmand-Farhad said.

In the case of Muslim children, if that’s not possible, the agency tries to place them with a Muslim family in the community.

"But if no one steps forward, then the child is placed with whoever can take them," she said. "In foster care, no religion is supposed to be imposed on the children, but it’s still always nice to have your own religion or your own culture available to you."

Shaikh Yassir Fazaga, imam and religious director at the Orange County Islamic Foundation in Mission Viejo, Calif., said the Muslim community is obliged to care for foster children.

"This is a communal obligation," he said. "If enough individuals have done it, than the community as a whole fulfills the obligation. But if we don’t have enough foster parents, then as a community, we have to re-evaluate the situation."

Fazaga finds the Muslim community responsible for providing care to foster children regardless of their religious beliefs or upbringing.

"From an Islamic perspective, we definitely have to extend a helping hand to these children, whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim," he said.

According to Family Solutions statistics, 50 percent of foster children will be reunited with their biological families after the parents have completed a court-mandated plan, while the other 50 percent become eligible for long-term foster care or adoption and are often adopted by their foster parents.

The role of a foster parent or family is unique, Mohmand-Farhad said. "You give these children structure by letting them know you’ll be there, that they’ll have three meals a day, that they’ll have a bed to sleep in, and that they’ll wake up and see the same parents."

While it can be emotionally or physically draining, she added, it is also rewarding and allows individuals to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Hameed said she and her husband found foster parenting fulfilling. "We really enjoyed doing homework with the children and taking them to activities."

There is a dire need to take care of Muslim children who have been neglected, she added. "There’s so much out there you can do. It’s very easy, too. Having another child won’t put that much extra work on your part."

Fahima Sheren, coordinator at ACCESS, describes foster parenting as similar to adoption, "except that the child doesn’t become yours."

The foster parenting process can be long-term or short-term, she said, adding that there have been families who have fostered a child for as little as a week while others have fostered a child until he or she turned 18.

The county, which has custody of the children, decides if they are to return to their biological parents or if they should be taken away permanently, Sheren said.

Certification for foster parenting takes, at most, six to eight weeks, Mohmand-Farhad said.

It includes filling out paperwork, 30 hours of training, fingerprinting for background checks and taking First Aid/CPR classes.

Interested individuals should have space available in their homes to care for the children, Mohmand-Farhad said.

No more than two to three children can share a room, a bed must be available for each child, and children ages 5 or older cannot share a room with children of the opposite gender.

Muslim foster families are often harder to find because the Muslim community is not as aware of foster care as mainstream America, experts say.

"The understanding is not out there in the Muslim community," said Owaiz Dadabhoy, president of UPLIFT. "We need to put the information out there, let the community know there are Muslim children out there, and let people know that this is another way to help."

He cited the recent case of two Muslim children being placed in a Christian home and taken by the foster parents to Christian services.

The biological parents didn’t want their children in the Christian home, and approached their local imam and ACCESS, Dadabhoy said.

"We also got involved, and we eventually found a couple of Muslim families who would like to help out with this," he said.

Fazaga pointed out that Muslim children placed in a non-Muslim foster home will inevitably be subjected to morals and behaviors that may be accepted by the non-Muslim family but not by Muslims.

"Islamically, these things may not be acceptable for the child. It impacts the Islamic identity of the child," he said.

Elena Meloni, one of five founders of New Star Family Center, which addresses social issues in the Muslim community, has been a foster parent for seven years.

"We cannot go to our community and talk about this without setting an example," she said. "So my husband and I decided that what we need to do is become foster parents and host children."

Through her work, Meloni said she discovered actual cases where Muslim parents had neglected their children.

"Initially, I was very upset because I thought the Department of Children and Family Services was out to get our kids – Muslim kids – and that all they wanted to do was break our families," she said.

In cases of neglect that leave Muslim children in need of foster care, Meloni said the community needs to play an active role.

"It’s hard to open up our homes to other children, but they are just children, and we have to do it," she said. "If we can’t save our own kids, how can we expect others to save our kids?"

Mohmand-Farhad added that some Muslim families may be hesitant to become involved in foster care because they feel a level of risk when inviting an outside individual into their homes.

"Once you become a certified family, you have another family member coming into the house, as well as social services checking in the child, or the child might have a mentor or an attorney who comes into the home," she said. "There are a lot of different people involved with the child, and people need to be willing to do that."

While addressing temporary situations, Dadabhoy said UPLIFT also aims to create an infrastructure that will allow an organized and proper way of addressing long-term issues.

"It shouldn’t be haphazard," he said. "The community should know where to go when a need arises."

Dadabhoy said there should be a focus on certifying Muslim families for foster care as well as communicating with counties to ensure they will inform the appropriate agencies when Muslim children are in need of foster care.

"We’ve already struck a relationship with the county of Los Angeles," he said, adding that when the county has a Muslim foster child, they contact New Star Family Center to try to place the child with a Muslim family.

Meloni has also been in talks with Orange County.

"They’ve finally realized that they need to partner with the faith communities," she said. "It has been overlooked for too long."

Dadabhoy said the case of the two Muslim children placed in a Christian foster home was a jumping off point for the issue of foster care.

"When we find out about a problem, we’ve got to resolve the problem, but we also have to build for the next case," he said.

To do that, the agencies are collaborating to visit several masjids and host sessions to inform families about the issue.

Dadabhoy has already circulated e-mails among the Muslim community regarding the two children placed in a Christian foster home and has received enormous response.

"It goes to show that when there’s a crisis, people do come out. With whatever kind of support we need, people will volunteer their time, money and effort to help out," he said. "It’s just a matter of putting those issues out there and letting people respond."

Meloni said she’s hoping the community will continue to participate and provide homes for foster children.

"I feel very strongly that all of our kids should be in our homes," she said. "They don’t belong in any other homes."

Connect, Motivate and Educate partnership links foster care youth with college

Aging out of foster care - and into college
Edwards, Leonard. San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 8, 2007.

Big things were happening in Michelle's life this past spring. She was turning 18, graduating from high school (the first person in her family to do so) and her juvenile court case would be dismissed. And Michelle was frightened.

She was frightened because she was a dependent child of the juvenile court and had been in foster care for five years. Her father was in prison and her mother had not been heard from in several years. Michelle didn't know what she was going to do with her life. When asked in court, she said she might get a job and possibly move in with her boyfriend.

Michelle is one of several thousand foster children in California who will "age out" of foster care this year (about 200 in Santa Clara County). That means their cases will be dismissed, there will no longer be a social worker supporting them, and they won't be going to juvenile court anymore.

Some will return to the same parents they were removed from years ago, and some will join the workforce. Most will have a difficult time. Studies show that foster youth aging out of the child welfare system are more likely than other youth to go on welfare, end up in jail, become homeless, or have their own children removed into the same system that they came from.

That is understandable. Foster children have had little stability in their lives. Their parents have failed to provide a safe home for them, they are likely to have lived in several homes before they age out, and they do not have a safety net to support them when they are on their own.

Five years ago I organized a luncheon for foster youth in Santa Clara County who were about to age out of the child welfare system. Funded by the Philanthropic Ventures Foundation and supported by court personnel, attorneys, child advocates and social workers, the luncheon featured foster youth who were in college and people who could inform them about educational opportunities. The luncheon was a success and has been held every year since then. Three years ago, San Jose State agreed to host the luncheon on campus. Former foster youth then attending SJSU spoke and showed the foster youth around the campus.

Then something wonderful happened. SJSU embraced the idea of helping foster youth move to higher education. The university, with the generous help of Connie Lurie, created CME (Connect Motivate and Educate) Society, a program to support foster youth interested in college.

Bringing together all segments of the university, SJSU has been able to help foster youth apply for admission, help them with housing, assist with financial aid, and even provide mentors. The luncheon continues, now with Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Katherine Lucero leading the juvenile court efforts to ensure better outcomes for our foster youth.

Ideas for expansion are being considered so that community and junior colleges can be a part of the program. Still other ideas will be explored at a conference SJSU and the Silicon Valley Children's Fund are hosting in November:

http://www.svcf. org/BlueprintConference 2007/savethedate.html

A few weeks ago, SJSU President Don Kassing hosted a barbecue dinner at his home for former foster youth entering the university. The new students were excited to be there with the SJSU leaders of CME, particularly Connie Robbins-Hernandez, director of the program.

During the evening I went over to Michelle and asked her about college life. She said she was loving it. Then I asked her why she decided to go to college. She said she had never thought of it until she went to the foster care luncheon. She made up her mind when she heard that college was possible.

I believe we all have an obligation to give our children goals and to help them achieve those goals - foster children in particular. SJSU is making this a reality.

LEONARD EDWARDS is a retired Santa Clara County Superior Court judge. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.

Requiring counties to link foster children with federal aid before aging out of care

Governor signs bills to extend benefits for disabled foster kids
Chorneau, Tom. San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 12, 2007.

Sacramento, CA - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday signed a package of bills intended to improve care for California's 77,000 foster children by extending benefits to kids with disabilities when they reach age 18 and improving access to health care and mental health services.

"These are bills that are going to help a lot of kids," said Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, whose bill, AB1331, was among those signed by the governor.

Evans' legislation will require counties to sign up eligible foster care children before they turn 18 for federal aid, with the idea that some of them might be able to continue receiving support after they become adults.

The federal government provides about half of the funding for foster care programs in California, with state and local governments sharing the remaining costs. But services vary substantially from county to county, and children's advocates have long complained about a lack of standards for licensing group homes and protections against abuse.

Several of the bills signed by Schwarzenegger are expected to help:

-- AB340, by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, requires the state to establish a unified process for licensing foster homes.

-- AB1453, by Assemblywoman Nell Soto, D-Pomona (Los Angeles County), calls for pilot programs in two counties to try new ways of delivering outside services to foster care facilities that might encourage children to live without government support when they become adults.

-- SB785, by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and AB1512, by Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, facilitate better access to health care and mental health services for foster children.

-- SB39, by Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, provides public access to some case files related to the death of a child while in a foster care facility.

"These are issues that have not captured much attention in the past," said Ken Berrick, executive director of the Seneca Center for Children and Families in San Leandro, a nonprofit agency that provides mental health services to troubled juveniles including foster children. "The fact that lawmakers like Steinberg and Hancock and others have taken notice - as well as the governor - it's huge."

Migden's bill was prompted by a loophole in current laws that protect the privacy of a foster child but make it difficult for advocates to get basic information about a foster child's death.

Steinberg said his bill, SB785, will help ensure that foster and adoptive children placed into homes outside their home counties will get mental health services.

Foster care advocates were disappointed that Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 149, by Assemblywoman Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, which called for a new program for locating relatives of foster children who might serve as caregivers. The governor said the state already has such a program.

Critical bridge between age 18 and youth adulthood

New Laws Will Help California's Foster Children
KCBS, Oct. 13, 2007.

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) -- One of the Bay Area's leading experts on foster care says new legislation is moving the state in the right direction when it comes to adequate care.

This week Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that would make it mandatory for disabled children to receive supplemental security income the moment they leave state care. In addition, the governor has placed $35 million dollars in the state budget to provide transitional housing units for foster youth.

”That’s going to be a critical bridge to get many of these youth from age 18 through young adulthood, without having to worry about where they’re going to sleep at night,” said Jill Duerr Berrick, co-director of the UC Berkeley Center for Child and Youth Policy.

However, Duerr Berrick says the system is still woefully under-funded.

”Children and families receive only a few minutes of justice in the courtroom, when in fact their lives are really hanging in the balance. So there’s tremendous work to be done to improve support available on the court side,” said Duerr Berrick.

A blue ribbon panel of state experts is preparing to release some suggestions on how to better manage the system.

I am suspicious of this "quick fix" -- are the children really safe?

Far fewer children in L.A. County foster care
Leonard, Jack. Los Angeles Times, Oct. 20, 2007.

Los Angeles County's child protection agency has cut the number of children in foster care by half over the last decade, driving detentions down and speeding the time it takes to return children to their parents -- without an increase in abuse reports, county figures show.

This year, the number of children in the county's foster care system fell below 25,000 for the first time since peaking at more than 52,000 in 1997, even though the number of children in the county has risen over the last decade, according to the county's Department of Children and Family Services.

The change marks a notable success in remaking the county's long-troubled child welfare agency, which once emphasized removing children in the name of safety -- leaving many in foster care for years, where they sometimes suffered more abuse and neglect.

Today, social workers are encouraged to keep children at home by helping parents deal with problems believed to underlie abuse, including drug addiction, unemployment and mental illness. At the same time, the county has doubled the number of adoptions, increased the number of child-parent reunions and reduced the time such reunifications take.

In 2000, social workers took an average of two years to return children to their parents. Last year, it took them nine months.

"I think we've come to realize that a child's need to be in their own home and in a permanent home is important," said Patricia S. Ploehn, director of the county children's services department. "I don't think that there's been a time in the last 30 years where there's been so much hope that we can actually do it right this time."

Despite the changes, Ploehn acknowledged that much more work is needed. Hundreds of children live for years in group homes, and a federal court has concluded that the county fails to provide adequate mental health services to thousands of foster children.

Ploehn said her department is addressing the problems and pledged more reforms to continue reducing the number of children in foster care. But some critics have expressed concerns about the pace of change.

A prominent group of children's rights advocates has accused social workers of dismissing some abuse reports too quickly in their zeal to keep families together. And a sharp rise in child detentions over the last two years has raised concerns that the reforms may be losing their effectiveness.

After declining in the early 1980s, the nation's foster child population began a steady climb, fueled in part by the explosion of crack cocaine that swept thousands of children born to addicted parents into institutionalized care.

The numbers continued to rise through the economic recession of the early 1990s as more families grappled with poverty -- a factor often linked to child abuse. In Los Angeles, high-profile killings and abuse by parents also reinforced the belief that separating children from their families was the safest option for children.

"There was a mantra: When in doubt, detain," Ploehn said. "That was the message in the '90s. Take no risks. Take no chances."

But a growing body of research pointed to the disastrous effects of such a mind-set. Children in foster care are more likely than other children to drop out of school, commit crimes and experience mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness.

The findings prompted child-welfare advocates to urge local governments to find stable homes for foster children. In the late 1990s, national and state legislators passed laws making it easier to adopt such youngsters and providing financial incentives for local governments to accelerate the process. The number of kids in foster care began to fall gradually.

In Los Angeles, the effect was more dramatic. Three factors drove the change: an increase in adoptions, a decrease in the number of children separated from their parents and a rise in the number reunited with their parents.

Social workers began by clearing a massive backlog of pending adoptions and moved to find new parents for children in care. Local attorneys and other volunteers donated their time to help.

From 1998, the number of annual adoptions tripled to 3,069 by 2001 before falling back to about 2,000 -- nearly double the figure of a decade ago.

Social workers now reach out to relatives, churches and community groups in search of adoptive parents. The county has hired retired workers to scour the files of teenage foster children for relatives willing to take them in.

The county also embarked on an ambitious plan to change the culture of its child protective agency. Parents were no longer the enemy. Social workers were encouraged to help families stay together by linking children with mentors and parents with drug treatment, employment training, anger management and parenting classes.

The county boosted the number of children returned home from fewer than 5,000 in 1998 to more than 6,000 last year. At the same time, the rate of reunified children returning to foster care remained flat, except for an uptick in 2005

Inadequate mental health services to foster children in LA County

LA County child protection agency reduces foster care cases
San Diego Union Tribune, Oct. 23, 2007

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County figures show its long-troubled child protection agency has reduced the number of children in foster care by half over the last decade and shortened the time it takes to return children to their parents.

Figures show that so far this year the number of children in foster care has fallen below 25,000 for the first time since peaking at 52,000 in 1997.

The drop comes even as the number of children in the county has been rising. The county figures also show there hasn't been an increase in abuse reports.

Still, the agency remains under pressure to address problems with the child care system.

A federal court has determined that the county has failed to provided adequate mental health services to thousands of children in its foster care system.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Someone's Somebody opens on Nov. 18-21

Jeanne Kerr: 925. 639.7782

Local Author, National Child Advocate Regina Louise brings her one-woman show home: “Someone’s Somebody”
November 18 & 21 at Lesher Center for the Arts

Walnut Creek, CA -October 19, 2007- “Oliver Twist Meets Cinderella!” Told through 16 pairs of shoes, “Someone's Somebody” explores identity, race, and the ultimate question of perceived human value.

This Dickensian tale begins as Regina Louise navigates her way from rural Texas, to the more than 30 foster homes and residential treatment centers in both, Contra Costa County and San Francisco. At 13-years old, Regina was denied the right to belong to a family. An adoption petition filed on her behalf was over-ruled because Regina Louise was black and the woman who wanted to be her mother was white.

By the journey's end, in a hotel room in Times Square, the audience is left with the knowing: “love is never wasted." Regina is bringing her original play to Dean Lesher to celebrate National Adoption Month. When asked about the play, Louise says: “My story is about the possibilities that can be achieved in life, given the smallest shred of love. Every child deserves the right to have lifetime connections –to satisfy the most essential of all human needs: the need to be connected—to be: someone’s somebody.”

Today, Ms. Louise is a motivational speaker, child advocate, and author of the bestselling memoir; “Somebody's Someone.” Her story has been featured on NPR, PBS, Diablo Magazine, Contra Costa Times, San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune.

A book-signing and reception will follow the Sunday November, 18th matinee from 4-5 PM at Deliciouz, shoe store. 1506 North Main St. Walnut Creek, CA 94596.

“Someone's Somebody”
One Woman Play written & performed by Regina Louise
Lesher Center for the Arts Knights Stage 3 Theatre 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA
3 Performances Only
Sunday November 18th—2:15pm and 7:15pm & Wednesday November 21st 8:15pm

Ticket Prices: $28 (special discount available for 12 or more tickets)
To Purchase Tickets: Lesher box office: (925) 943-SHOW or online
To find out more, please visit