Monday, February 18, 2008

$30 million in cutbacks for county foster care system?

Foster children need dental care
Williams, Janette. Pasadena Star-News, Feb. 14, 2008.

ARCADIA - Facing $30million in cutbacks this year, the county's foster care system asked local dentists and private health agencies Thursday to help provide supplemental services for its 36,346 charges.

At the "Child Welfare Dental Summit" at the Arboretum of Los Angeles County in Arcadia, dental and medical professionals and county officials came together to brainstorm on how to bridge the funding gap.

"We're trying to engage the community and individual dentists," said Patricia S. Ploehn, director of the county's Department of Children and Family Services.

"Children in care are our responsibility, and there are limited funds from Medical," she said. "We're asking professionals to come to the table to say they will partner with us and provide low- or no-cost services."

Ploehn said several dentists have already volunteered their services. Levels of dental care required for children in the foster system "run the whole gamut," Ploehn said. A trust fund that underwrites some dental care is "not enough to meet the needs."

After presentations by speakers - including Dr. Harold Slavkin, dean of the USC School of Dentistry, and Michael Nash, presiding judge of the Los Angeles County Children's Court - the participants broke into working groups to define the top areas of concern.

Dr. Lynnette Jackson of Arcadia, a pediatric dentist who now works with Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and MLK Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center, said the need is enormous.

Dental health, she said, "is a very vital part of anything" and poor teeth can affect speech, cause other illnesses and infections, and take children out of school.

"It costs a lot more money to do restorative work than to do prevention ahead of time," said Jackson, a former board member of Pasadena-based Young & Healthy, a nonprofit agency.

The county Board of Supervisors has allotted $5 million for a "prevention initiative" to let the department canvass agencies on their needs and work on strategies to fill the gaps in medical and dental care for foster children, Ploehn said.

Anyone interested in providing low-cost dental services to foster children can call (213) 351-5600.

(626) 578-6300, Ext. 4482

Dentists donate preventative dental care for foster children

Dentists asked to fill gaps in foster kids' care
Pasadena Star, Feb. 14, 2008.

ARCADIA - Facing $30 million in cutbacks this year, the county's foster care system has asked local dentists and private health agencies to step up to provide supplemental services for the 36,346 children now in care.

At a "Child Welfare Dental Summit" held Thursday at the Arboretum of Los Angeles County, dental and medical professionals and county officials came together to brainstorm on how to bridge the funding gap.

"We're trying to engage the community and individual dentists," said Patricia S. Ploehn, director of the county's Department of Children and Family Services.

"Children in care are our responsibility, and there are limited funds from Medical." she said. "There is nothing for orthodontics or cosmetic dentistry that's so important to a child's self-image ... and we're asking professionals to come to the table to say they will partner with us and provide low- or no-cost services."

Ploehn, a keynote speaker at the event, said several dentists from the 100-plus audience had already volunteered their services.

Levels of dental care required for children in the system, ranging from birth to 18, "run the whole gamut," Ploehn said and a trust fund, made up of donations, that underwrites some dental care is "not enough to meet the needs,"

After presentations by speakers - including Dr. Harold Slavkin, dean of USC school of Dentistry, and Michael Nash, presiding judge of the Los Angeles County Children's Court - the participants broke into working groups to define and tackle the top areas of concern.

Dr. Lynnette Jackson of Arcadia, a pediatric dentist who now works with Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and MLK Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center (formerly King-Drew Medical Center) said the need is enormous.

Dental health, she said, "is a very vital part of anything" and poor teeth can affect speech, cause other illnesses and infections, and take children out of school.

"It costs a lot more money to do restorative work than to do prevention ahead of time," said Jackson, a former board member of Pasadena-based Young & Healthy, a non-profit agency.

"It's very sad to see children in pain or having to be placed in hospital over something preventable," she said, adding that she and her staff have seen some shocking results of lack of basic care or treatment.

The County Board of Supervisors has allotted $5 million for a "prevention initiative" to let the department canvass agencies on their needs and work on strategies to fill the gaps in medical and dental care for foster children, Ploehn said.

"From what I have seen today, there's a desire by professionals to fill those gaps," she said. "Now we want to start matching people up."

Anyone interested in providing dental services is asked to call (213) 351-5600.


Across the board 10% decrease is a short-sighted suggestion

With Courage and Commonsense, California Doesn’t Have to Balance the Budget with a Meat-Axe Wielded at Children and the Vulnerable
California Progress Report - Oakland,CA,USA 2-11-08
By Jim Beall, Jr., Member of theCalifornia State Assembly, Feb. 10, 2008

California faces a massive $14.5 million deficit and the Governor’s chief reply is to ask for an across-the-board 10 percent cut for all of the state’s departments, a meat-axe approach that endangers our youngest Californians – foster care kids, students with disabilities, and children receiving CalWorks benefits.

The Governor’s proposal continues an unspoken policy of whittling essential human service programs that have suffered budget cuts year after year only because they serve vulnerable people who have no political leverage in Sacramento.

This craven policy must stop. And it can be stopped, if the Governor and the Legislature have the courage to attack our state’s problems on a comprehensive basis while trimming bureaucracy and eliminating special interest tax breaks. Budget cuts alone don’t solve problems, they merely ignore them.

Under the Governor’s scenario, the poor and disabled who receive assistance will become multiple victims of the proposed cuts because they rely on more than one state program to improve their lives. Nearly $4 dollars out of every $10 in cuts will come from services and programs that help Californians with low incomes.

More than 78,000 children in California were living in foster care in 2006. Families who have taken in these neglected and abused children have seen their child care rates fall under one-eighth the cost of institutional care, the only other option.

For six years, foster care families had not received any raises in their rates until I was able to get a 5 percent increase included in last year’s budget.

Now, the Governor wants to eliminate that increase and take away another 5 percent. In all, the Governor’s proposal would reduce the foster care budget by $141.7 million, not counting another $53.4 million lost in federal funds.

The state’s reduction translates to about $50 a month less per family. All told, the cuts mean a 22 percent loss in purchasing power for a foster care family, according to the County Welfare Directors Association.

But cuts to foster kids don’t stop there. The Governor also wants to lower the clothing allowance for these children as well as slashing funding for the care of children who require special medical needs or supervision.

This will force many foster care families who have habitually dipped into their own pockets to pay for clothing, transportation, and food for their foster kids to reconsider the sacrifices they have made and whether they can afford to continue doing so.

“When you think of the cuts,’’ said Lois Raap, the 2007 National Foster Parent of the Year and a senior attorney with Legal Advocates for Permanent Parenting, “it gives foster care families three choices.

“You either provide less for the child who comes into the home. You can stop caring for the child and hope someone else can afford to do it, or you lower the living standards of your whole family, and, really, we don’t know where to make that kind of cut.’’

Additionally, if any of those foster care kids happen to be among the 680,000 children statewide with disabilities requiring them to enroll in special education classes, they’ll feel the budget axe again.

The Governor’s proposal trims $358 million from special education programs and forces local school districts to find – if they can – a way to backfill to meet federally mandated requirements. For many districts that adopted their budgets for this fiscal year long ago, it will be an impossible task.

The cascade of cuts also target Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT), a comprehensive and preventative health program for people under 21. Foster care children with mental illnesses who have benefited from EPSDT services will see that program trimmed by $53 million.

Also on the agenda for cuts are 150,000 children who will face new limitations on their CalWorks benefits. Families not meeting program rules for 6 months to a year will see their grants cut by 50 percent. Children whose parents have reached their 60-month limit of CalWorks benefits will also have their assistance reduced. These sanctions unfairly penalize the child for their parent’s actions.

Sacramento needs to re-order its priorities. Short-term solutions won’t solve long-term problems. We have to take a holistic view of state government.

During the past four years, spending for prisons has climbed 74 percent compared with less than 9 percent for human services. About 173,000 people are in prison yet millions of Californians use and depend on our human service programs.

The majority of the inmates were incarcerated on drug- or alcohol-related crimes. Yet, the administration refuses to deal with the state’s growing substance abuse and alcohol problems in a comprehensive way at its earliest stages. In fact, the Governor’s cuts signal a troubling shift in the opposite direction.

His budget would slash $13.3 million in funding for Proposition 36 funding, an initiative passed by 61 percent of the voters six years ago. The proposition, known as the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, lets non-violent offenders choose substance abuse treatment instead of jail, a chance to get clean and stay clean.

The across-the-board cuts would whack $3.1 million in funding from drug courts where offenders are directed into supervised treatment programs, enabling defendants to continue working and caring for their children, instead of being put behind bars. These courts are designed to not only rehabilitate lives wrecked by drugs but also to stop the repeat offender, a strategy that saves taxpayers millions in prison and law enforcement costs.

The Governor’s continued failure to deal with the huge numbers of people being incarcerated for drugs in a comprehensive way has contributed to our spending problems.

While the Governor recommends cuts, he pays scant attention to raising revenue, a point cited by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. I agree with the LAO. We have to look at ways to legitimately raise revenue, including examining the $17 billion in antiquated tax giveaways to special interests.

Let’s look at a few of these tax dodges:

• The state loses $50 million a year because the rich do not have to pay sales tax when they buy a luxury yacht.

• Every oil-producing state levies an oil severance tax on petroleum companies pumping oil out of their ground except California -- a policy that costs us at least $400 million annually in lost revenue.

• Non-residential property owners escape $4 billion or more in taxes because their properties are not re-assessed as often as residential properties.

If the Governor demands our children, the disabled, and the poor to make sacrifices, then he ought to make the same demand on those who profit from loopholes in the tax system.

We cannot continue to balance the budget on the backs of our poorest and most fragile people. It is wrong; it is reprehensible.

But if the Governor and the Legislature work in unison and attack the root causes of the deficit, we can produce lasting solutions to ensure no other generation of California children will be put at risk again.

Assemblymember Jim Beall, Jr. (D-San Jose) is currently serving his first term in the California State Assembly. He represents the 24th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Campbell, Saratoga, and parts of Santa Clara, San Jose and Los Gatos. He is the Chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee and is dedicated to improving conditions for children, youth, families, and seniors.

Slashing foster care funding does not support safety and stability

Don't cut foster care
San Bernardino Sun, Feb. 9, 2008.

Last October, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stated: "Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, stable and permanent home, surrounded by the nurturing influence of family and friends. It is California's goal to ensure that this happens for all our young people and especially those in foster care."

Three months later, the governor's 2008-2009 proposed budget slashes foster-care funding:

- 10 percent from children served in foster family homes;

- 10 percent from children cared for in group homes;

- 10 percent from support for kin caregivers;

- 10 percent from support for adoptive families of special needs children;

- 5 percent from children served in foster family agencies.

The resources provided to support foster children have been chronically underfunded since 1991. Last year foster, kin and adoptive caregivers received a 5 percent increase - the first increase since 2001 and only the fifth since 1991! The proposed cuts turn a long overdue 5 percent gain into a 5 percent loss.

With the proposed cuts, the funding built into group home rates for entry-level youth counselors now falls below minimum wage. Qualified individuals will be discouraged from becoming and continuing as caregivers. The resulting high turnover rate among foster parents and the staff of group homes and foster family agencies will deny foster children the caregiver stability they so desperately need and deserve.

I urge the public to take a stand for children and ask your legislators to keep the promise of quality care for foster children by opposing the governor's proposed budget cuts for foster youth funding.

Chief executive officer
Trinity Youth Services, Colton

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Denying foster youth a voice in court pepetuates injustice

Broken families, broken courts:
Big stakes, but little voice for kids
de Sá, Karen. Mercury News, Feb, 12, 2008.

The day an Alameda County Superior Court judge became his stand-in parent, 14-year-old Zairon Frazier felt more like a criminal than a survivor of child abuse.

His mother had whacked him with a belt. But inside Juvenile Dependency Court, it seemed like a different sort of punishment. A bank of attorneys argued his fate at a rapid clip.

"Obviously, whatever they were saying wasn't for my benefit," Zairon said. "I knew they were talking about me, but I didn't think anything I said or cared about mattered. If it was about me, why didn't they ask me?"

Youth advocates seeking to reform the long-overlooked dependency courts want answers to the same question. Too often, children removed from home following allegations of abuse and neglect are poorly served by lawyers paid to represent them.

Throughout California, attorneys do not include their clients in critical court proceedings foreshadowing their futures. The youths have little direct contact with their court-appointed lawyers before and after the hearings. And with the exception of dependency court in Los Angeles County, children rarely appear in court to express their views. When they do attend, like Zairon, they often leave discouraged.

The problem is compounded in Santa Clara County, one of two California counties where the district attorney's office represents children in dependency cases; other counties use public defenders or private attorneys. The local system leaves the children represented by lawyers who may be too adversarial toward the parents for their clients' own good. In interviews, judges and attorneys on all sides of local dependency cases said the tendency of the district attorney's office is to see too many parents as dangerous to their clients, a stance that works against the fundamental premise of dependency court - to reunify families whenever it is safe to do so.

The stakes for these kids are high. Judges and commissioners decide who will feed and clothe them - a relative, a stranger or institution staff. They decide where children will attend school, and whether they will ever see their families again after entering California's foster care system, the nation's largest, with 75,000 children.

Traditionally, having children attend hearings was considered inappropriate; the system was presumed able to find the best outcomes without subjecting them to the possibility of additional trauma in the courtroom. But that view has come under increasing skepticism, as research suggests children's presence leads to improvements in their lives.

"If we deny youth that opportunity to participate, we really have set up a court system that perpetuates injustice," said attorney Jennifer Rodriguez, a former foster youth. "Their lives are decided by strangers, in mere minutes."

For Rodriguez, that decision came at age 12, when a San Mateo County court ruled in her absence that she was a poor fit for a foster family. Over six years, Rodriguez shuffled between group homes, she said, "feeling so lonely I wanted to die."

Much about the regional courts has remained the same since 1994, when Rodriguez left the system. A reporter who won court approval to observe confidential proceedings in Santa Clara County for more than two weeks in 2007 observed children in only a fraction of hearings. On some days, the court raced through 20 cases or more without a single child present - even children clearly old enough to understand the process.

Hearings for children in long-term foster care often lasted no more than two minutes, even when reports revealed the children's lives were mired in terrible chaos. When young people did appear in court, their hearings were longer and more substantive; judges responded to children's concerns by seeking creative solutions.

On a typical spring day last year, the troublesome cases of absent youths came and went in a flash.

First was the case of a girl who had been denied any contact with her siblings. Her high school grades had plunged to D's and F's.

Then there was the fifth-grader so doped up on anti-psychotic medications he slept through class. Court reports showed the 11-year-old, grieving his father's death, used "marijuana and ecstasy as well as alcohol to numb his pain."

Later came the case of a suicidal 14-year-old girl, who continued to "mutilate her toes." The social worker's report issued a stern warning: "The child has a plan to harm herself and means to execute her plan."

While social workers, relatives and foster parents plan the lives of children outside the court, the hearings are a unique forum for judges to independently review the care of young people in state custody. "Any time a child comes into court, like any time a parent sees their kid at the end of the day, you have to be spending the time to do a temperature check," said Miriam Krinsky, a state courts consultant. "The more times you ask, the more you gain, especially with children in distress."

Nationwide efforts to reform the troubled foster care system increasingly focus on turning up the volume of 513,000 children's voices. The American Bar Association and the National Association of Counsel for Children are among groups urging that children be brought into court, even at young ages. Widely agreed-upon professional conduct codes for lawyers also call for maintaining personal contact with children wherever they move, basing legal strategy squarely around their wishes, and fighting for parent services and longer visits when appropriate.

"A living, breathing child," said Marvin Ventrell, of the children's lawyers group, "causes you to do your job."

Zairon Frazier
His life was being discussed, so he wanted to be there

Zairon Frazier, the Alameda County teen, could never find a ride to court. But something told him he should be there when the subject was his life. So he traveled by bus and BART, navigating strange cities from San Pablo to Oakland.

Over five years beginning in 2002, counselors and social workers advised him not to bother. And although he persisted, all too often, the court experience let him down. Zairon moved through eight East Bay shelters and group homes, three middle schools and three high schools.

At each hearing, Zairon never knew who would appear on his behalf. "They'd say: 'Hi, I'm your attorney. Here are your case notes, look them over.' And that was about it."

Meanwhile, Zairon's life cried out for zealous advocacy. At one county-licensed home, he had to wake up well before dawn to have time to get to his school; at another there was only enough hot water for one of six boys to shower. Zairon said he struggled to evade the drug use around him and longed for privacy. He ran away and slept in the streets. "It was so bad," he said, "I was crying every day."

Child welfare experts have found that children kept out of the decision-making are more likely to misbehave or run away from foster care entirely. And their presence offers judges insight into their physical well-being and interaction with parents.

The difference when the hearings included children was evident during the Mercury News' observation of dependency courtrooms.

In one case, a 17-year-old in San Francisco reappeared 16 months after running away. The teenager told Commissioner Catherine Lyons that social-worker reports that her mother read were undermining the girl's plan to return home.

Tossing back a tangle of magenta braids, the teen had a report of her own to deliver. "I got taken away from my mother and then someone sent a letter to my mother saying I didn't want to stay with my mother," she said, rising to her feet. "Why would I say something like that to my mother? That's just making things more difficult for me!"

The teen said she'd been on her own since entering foster care: "Group homes ain't no family."

And then the commissioner promised action. "I admire you for what you've done, what you've had to do," Lyons said. "If there's something in the report that's attributed to you that you didn't say or do, then we can take care of that."

And in a Santa Clara County courtroom, a boy told his attorney, Rob Lux, that he wanted to speak. The boy had been placed in foster care because his mother smoked marijuana after authorities already were concerned about her care.

"I just wanted to tell you, um . . . " Tears interrupted the testimony. "I really don't like what's going on and I just want to go back home," the boy said. "I didn't even get to spend Easter with my Mom, and that's my favorite holiday."

"I really, really appreciate your saying that to me," Judge Katherine Lucero responded, trimming the reunification target date from 180 days to 60. "And by law, I have to weigh that in my decision."

'So fragile'
Should kids be in court?
Some judges, lawyers say no

Nevertheless, there is a widespread attitude that the system functions fine without children. NOPE

A 2006 survey of 1,800 judges, attorneys and social workers surveyed in 40 states revealed that just 8 percent believe kids should always be present at their hearings. Only 28 percent said children should be present most of the time, reports the non-profit agency Home at Last.

"The attitude of the judges and minors' counsel in Northern California is that these children are so fragile and shouldn't be exposed to this," said Carole Greeley, a longtime dependency appeals attorney. "They're actively discouraging it." What about what they are already being exposed to at home, in foster care, on the streets and in group homes? Perhaps these judges and lawyers just don't want to know about it.

Santa Clara County children in foster care accompany their lawyers to court so infrequently, the local practice is to replace them with a Polaroid photograph. Deputy District Attorney Christine Hudson, who now carries a caseload of 428 clients, said the youths are told they can attend hearings but are not necessarily encouraged to come. Court can be boring for children, or traumatic, she said. She said some judges and commissioners even ask them to leave.

Many children say they have little or no contact with their attorneys outside court as well.

Estephanie, 20, spent four years in Santa Clara County group homes and shelters. She fled several times, falling into prostitution at age 15 while supposedly in state care.

When asked whether she had representation throughout her ordeal, Estephanie responded: "A lawyer? All I had was my social worker. No lawyer. I would have been knowing about that!"

Denise Marchu, former president of the local foster parent association who has cared for 120 children, said only two have been visited by attorneys, and that was to sign adoption papers. And in two group interviews with local foster youths, 10 of 15 teenagers said they had no idea who their lawyer was. One boy said he's seen his attorney three times in nine years. He doesn't know her name, he said. "But I know she's cute."

Emancipation hearing
'Would the judge care what was going to happen to me?'

As Zairon Frazier's 18th birthday approached, a significant court date loomed - the hearing curiously known as "the emancipation," or formal release from court supervision.

But there was a conflict. His last court date landed the same day as finals at Skyline High School. It could not be changed, a caller from the county informed Zairon.

That lost opportunity bothered him, compounding all the other losses of his life. "I wanted to hear what they were going to say about me at that last hearing. What would happen if I didn't have a job or I wasn't in school?" Zairon said. "I wanted to know, would the judge care what was going to happen to me after I got out of foster care?"

Postscript: On Oct. 26, 2007, two years after he left foster care, Zairon Frazier, now a student at Chabot College, was back in dependency court. After a reporter questioned the Alameda County Public Defender's Office about why Zairon's emancipation hearing was not rescheduled, officials decided belatedly to do exactly that.

Zairon, now 20, beamed through praise from Judge Rhonda Burgess, a photo session and a lunch in his honor. "It truly didn't have any legal implication," said his former public defender, Kathy Siegel, who was so bothered after learning of the missed hearing that she orchestrated the mock event. "But it had a lot of meaning to him, it really did. It was closure."

Contact: Karen de Sá at or (408) 920-5781.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Can the population of children in foster care be cut in half safely? Or will the children suffer?

Casey Family Programs Hires Los Angeles County Child Advocate
Press Release, Casey Family Programs, Feb. 11, 2008.

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Feb 11, 2008 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Casey Family Programs has hired well-known child advocate Bonnie Armstrong as director of strategic consulting in Los Angeles. Armstrong will advance Casey's 2020 Strategy by supporting the work of Los Angeles County to safely reduce the number of children in foster care.

Casey Family Programs' 2020 Strategy has three goals:
-- To safely halve the number of children in foster care by the year 2020
-- To reinvest savings to strengthen the child welfare system
-- To improve the lives of youth in foster care so they can become
self-sufficient, healthy adults

Armstrong will work with the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and the Los Angeles County Probation Department.

Armstrong was the director of advocacy and community development for the West Region (Arizona, California and Hawaii) of Casey Family Programs until 2002. In that position, she was responsible for establishing Casey's presence in Los Angeles County. This includes the Pasadena Alumni Support Center for youth aging out of foster care.

"We are thrilled to have Bonnie back at Casey. She brings a wealth of experience, enthusiasm, and vision that embodies the foundation's 2020 strategy," said Miryam J. Choca, senior director of strategic consulting at Casey Family Programs.

Armstrong has also served as senior fellow at the Foundation Consortium for California's Children & Youth. There she led a public-private partnership between state government and philanthropy that resulted in significant changes in policy and practice for the child welfare system in California. More recently, she was the Southern California deputy director of the Child Abuse Prevention Center.

In her 35-year career, Armstrong has served at the federal, state, county, municipal and school district levels in elected, appointed, and volunteer capacities. These include policymaker, philanthropic leader, advocate and advisor. She served under two Florida governors as Special Assistant for Health and Social Services. In Southern California, she was a founding member of both the Los Angeles County Children's Planning Council and the Los Angeles Roundtable for Children, and she chaired the Pasadena Commission on Children and Youth and the Family Community Council. As an elected School Board member, she pioneered a consortium model of school-based mental health services in the Pasadena Unified School District.

"Bonnie has the experience and the network in the Los Angeles area that Casey Family Programs is looking to build upon, and we could not have anyone better than Bonnie to support sustainable systems change," added Choca.

"I've worked both locally and across the country on efforts to improve outcomes for children and families; helping develop local capacity for building healthier communities. I'm really looking forward to working with Casey to deepen and broaden the great work that is happening in L.A.," Armstrong said in a statement.

Armstrong is the author of numerous publications, including Making Government Work for Your City's Kids, Youth Development Planning Guide, Healthy Beginnings, Healthy Futures and Cities and Schools: Partners for Children and Families. She holds a master's degree in human development from Pacific Oaks College.

Armstrong will be based in the Casey Family Programs office in Pasadena, where Casey Family Program's direct service work is also based. The direct service work in Pasadena is led by Yakiciwey Mitchell and serves over 1500 youth and families through community collaborations. These support relative caregivers at the Kinship in Action Center (a partnership with the Community Coalition) and foster youth transitioning to successful adulthood at the Pasadena Alumni Support Center (a partnership with DCFS, the Probation department and the Foothill Workforce Investment Board).

About Casey Family Programs

Casey Family Programs is the largest national foundation whose sole mission is to provide and improve -- and ultimately prevent the need for -- foster care. The foundation draws on over 40 years of experience and expert research and analysis to improve the lives of children and youth in foster care in two important ways: by providing direct services and support to foster families, and by promoting improvements in child welfare practice and policy. The Seattle-based foundation was established in 1966 by UPS founder Jim Casey, and has a current endowment of $2.5 billion.

For more information, contact Casey Family Programs at or 1300 Dexter Avenue North, Floor 3, Seattle, WA 98109. Visit our Web site at

SOURCE Casey Family Programs

Spending more money on prisons and less money on social services lacks forsight

Budget cuts hit state's most vulnerable
Beall, Jim. San Jose Mercury News, Feb. 11, 2008.

Every day, 73-year-old Ingeborg Dale swallows a variety of pills to ease the pain from her bouts with cancer, diabetes and a weakened heart. Dale's flagging health keeps her confined to her cramped apartment in Santa Clara.

Her lifeline to the world is an In-House Supportive Service care worker who is paid by the state to clean Dale's home, prepare her meals, run errands, bathe her and drive her to doctor's appointments. The care worker visits Dale five days a week - except for Saturdays and Sundays - for about 5 1/2 hours each visit.

When her IHSS worker leaves on Friday, a bleak thought crosses Dale's mind: "There goes my everything."

Under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's draconian plan to solve California's $14.5 billion deficit, it will take longer for that IHSS worker to return to Dale's home. She is one of millions of Californians who will be drastically affected if the governor's across-the-board 10 percent budget cuts become reality. Essential safety net programs, such as IHSS, Medi-Cal and foster care, will be gutted.

Many of these programs have been under-funded for years while other departments' budgets have burgeoned. For example, general fund spending for prisons has risen by 74 percent in the past four years but social service programs have increased by less than 9 percent, failing to keep pace with growing caseloads and inflation.

Under the governor's scenario, the poor and disabled who receive assistance will be victimized several times by the cuts because they rely on more than one state program to improve their lives. Nearly $4 out of every $10 in cuts affect services and programs that help Californians with low incomes.

The governor offers few revenue-raising ideas to meet our growing state's critical needs, a point underscored by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

Sacramento must evaluate antiquated tax loopholes that cost California about $17 billion annually in lost revenue. More than $4 billion is lost in tax giveaways for commercial property owners, oil companies and corporations.

If we don't take a realistic look at raising revenues, we can expect more cuts to human services, leading to fewer random inspections of nursing homes or denial of dental care and eyeglasses to the poor. This is what the governor's plan proposes.

The cuts also would affect more than 391,000 IHSS recipients statewide - including about 13,700 in Santa Clara County - who receive non-medical domestic and related services that enable them to live in their own homes instead of a care facility. The state IHSS budget would be cut 18 percent, reducing care hours by an average of 6.6 hours a month per recipient.

These recipients, the elderly or disabled, will also be hit by cuts to other state programs that they use, such as Medi-Cal, said Mary Tinker, director of the local IHSS Public Authority. The result could force them to choose between spending their scarce dollars on food or medicine.

"In a state such as California," Tinker said, "it is inconceivable that we would treat any of our citizens with such disdain."

Just as inconceivable is the 10 percent cut aimed at foster care - a $141.7 million reduction, not counting another $53.4 million lost in federal funds. More than 78,000 children in California - about 2,000 of them in Santa Clara County - were living in foster care, according to Child Welfare Service reports in 2006. Reimbursement rates for foster care families have fallen behind the actual cost of living.

Last year, the budget included a 5 percent foster care rate boost, the first increase in six years. Now, Schwarzenegger would eliminate that 5 percent raise and take away another 5 percent. These cuts, which average about $50 a month, could be the last straw for families who have long spent their own cash to pay for transportation and food for their foster kids. And there is a larger price to pay for the governor's penny-wise approach: Research shows that inadequately supported foster care children are more likely to later enter the justice system than their non-foster care peers.

Cuts to programs that serve foster care kids and people like Ingeborg Dale are the product of political expediency. They are the easy targets in the budget because they have the least political power.

When she learned about the governor's proposal, Dale said, "I was enraged. He's forgotten what it means to be poor."

People like Dale should be angry. The question is: Shouldn't the rest of us be angry, too?

JIM BEALL JR., a Democrat, represents the 24th Assembly District in San Jose. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mi Casa is a wonderful aftercare program - there should be more of them!

For former foster care youth, Mi Casa is their home
Steffens, Sara. Contra Costa Times, Feb. 5, 2008.

Walnut Creek, CA - Chanel Finley, 18, shows off her new bedroom Jan. 28 at Mi Casa, a home for former foster youth...

For many young adults, turning 18 proves a rather lackluster rite of passage, bearing few changes of real consequence.

But for Chanel Finley, like other teens in foster care, the landmark birthday meant losing her home.

"It came out of nowhere," said Finley, who had to move from her transitional program not long after she graduated from Mt. Diablo High School. "I thought I was going to be able to stay another year. That was scary, not having a place to go."

Then a social worker pointed her toward Mi Casa, a new program in Concord for young adults who have outgrown their foster care placements.

"I was like, 'Wow, this is nice,'" Finley said of her first visit to the newly renovated home, which features an updated kitchen, a spacious great room and an outdoor patio with a fire pit.

The main house has six bedrooms, each just large enough for a twin bed and a chest of drawers. Four more bedrooms are planned for an adjacent home, tentatively scheduled to open in March.

Young men and women can stay up to two years at Mi Casa, where they are matched with case workers, pay a third of their income in rent and receive a $100 monthly stipend to help with groceries.

In other ways, the home will operate like a college dorm, right down to a resident manager who's also a young adult.

"The most critical things these young adults don't have are positive, supportive relationships," said program manager Amy Lawrence, who works for Lutheran Social Services. "And the most important part of the work we do is being those relationships for people, and helping them build more of their own.

"So if they're having a bad day, they have someone to call, or they know someone who can help them get a job."

"So if they're having a bad day, they have someone to call, or they know someone who can help them get a job."

Young adults typically rely on family support as they build financial independence -- with the average person not becoming completely self-sufficient until age 28, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But each year, thousands of California teens who turn 18 in foster care must instantly fend for themselves, often with disastrous results.

Within a year or two of leaving care, more than half are unemployed, and as many as one in four become homeless, studies have shown.

Mi Casa is part of a growing effort to avert such problems by better supporting former foster youth as they struggle to enter adult life.

Nearly two years in the works, building renovations cost $1.3 million and were paid from grants from the state and the city of Concord.

Operated by Lutheran Social Services of Northern California, with funding from the county and state, the home is open to youth who aged out of care at 18 and are younger than 25.

Young adults find the program through social workers or independent living programs and must interview for a spot.

Today, Mi Casa welcomes its two new residents: Finley and Jerisha Davis, 19, who grew up in kinship care, a type of foster care that places children with relatives -- in her case, her grandmother in Pittsburg.

Both young women visited the house last week to choose bedrooms and plan their first grocery lists.

They admired Mi Casa's large kitchen, equipped with double refrigerators and a series of deep locking drawers, one for each resident to stash special food items.

"We both like cooking," Finley said. "Everything from chicken to macaroni and cheese."

"Enchiladas," Davis added.

"Fish," Finley said, adding, "There's a lot of room in here."

Settling in on the comfy new couch, they were already, they agreed, becoming friends.

Davis, who aims to enroll soon in Diablo Valley College, hopes to use Mi Casa as the launching point her extended family isn't able to provide.

"I don't plan on staying here two years," she said. "I just really plan on focusing on my school and working and trying to save for my own place."

Finley also plans to continue her college studies, which she hopes will eventually lead to a career as a registered nurse.

"I'm just looking forward to moving in and being settled somewhere stable," she said, "so we can have our heads together and just go to school and work and save money."

Sara Steffens covers poverty and social services. Reach her at 925-943-8048 or

Friday, February 01, 2008

One step forward, two steps back regarding California foster care payments

Editorial: Foster care foolishness
Governor's cuts actually will increase costs
Sacramento Bee, Jan. 29, 2008, pg. B6.

With the state in a financial hole, cutting the budget is prudent. But fiscal prudence is one thing. Fiscal craziness is another.

Foster care is a case in point.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a 10 percent, across-the-board budget cut. One impact of this would be a cut in support to families who take in foster children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. Licensed foster families receive only $505 a month on average now, a stipend that is less than it costs to kennel a dog in most counties. Last year, the Legislature approved a 5 percent rate increase, the first increase since 2001. The governor's 10 percent cut would reduce support levels to less than they were before that small increase.

The number of licensed foster families already is declining. Sacramento County had 778 foster families in 1999. It has 425 families today, a 45 percent decline. Statewide, the number of licensed foster care homes has declined 30 percent in the last decade. Cutting already inadequate financial support will only accelerate this trend.

Without available licensed foster families, children removed from their homes are handed over to foster family agencies or to group home providers. Reimbursement rates for families recruited by foster family agencies cost between $1,589 a month and $1,860 a month. Group home placement costs run between $1,454 a month at the low end and $6,371 at the top.

By cutting support to foster families, the state will be shoving more abused and neglected children into substantially more expensive and often less appropriate alternatives. Children placed in these more expensive settings tend to stay in foster care longer and are less likely to be adopted or reunited with their families. Too many leave the system as adults without family support and at a high risk for crime and homelessness.

The result: The state will spend more now to achieve a worse result that will cost more in the future. This isn't prudent. This is crazy.