Saturday, May 10, 2008

Budget cuts penalize kinship care providers

Foster Care Advocates Celebrate Success and Decry Failures
Massie, Karen., Sacramento, CA.

"When I grow up I would like to be a pediatrician so I can care for other children," said Mercedes Anderson. The 11-year-old girl stood on tiptoe at a podium at the State Capitol and received an award on behalf of her family.

Anderson and two siblings became foster children nine years ago when their grandparents took custody of them. "I just told my daughter I'm taking them," said Ruth Ocon. "My daughter was in and out of their life. She was into bad things, drugs."

Tuesday, the grandparents received an award for opening their home. Ocon says it wasn't long before she also took custody of her daughter's son. "You can't think about yourself," she said. "You just got to take it one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time."

The number of California children in the foster care system has declined, according to Frank Mecca, head of the County Welfare Directors Association. "We had a significant drop in the numbers by having them adopted or put with relatives who have taken guardianship," Mecca said. "But foster children also need our help."

Mecca is worried about the proposed state budget because it cuts foster care funding by 10 percent. "Add in the decrease in matching federal funds and we're talking about a 16 percent cut," he said.

Mecca said the reductions will only add to foster children's woes, especially those who age out of the system at age 18. "They have a very high rate of homelessness. Only three percent go onto higher education," he said. One in five end up in the criminal justice system.

"We need prevention and early intervention services and substance abuse counseling so we can help families get back together," Mecca said.

Advocates pointed out that foster caregivers get an average of only $500 a month per child. "It's expensive," Anderson said. "My grandparents are trying to take care of me and my brother and sister. My grandparents are retired so they don't work anymore. They don't have that much money."

Her grandmother agreed that California needs to provide better care for foster children. "They don't vote. So, we have to be their advocates," Ocon said. "We've got to do the best we can for our kids."

Governor's Response
Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear issued the following response about the proposed cuts to state-funded foster care programs:

"Governor Schwarzenegger understands the impact these cuts have throughout the state, which is why he continues to push for structural budget reform to ensure our most vulnerable citizens do not continue to be taken along this roller coaster ride."