Tuesday, July 08, 2008

32% of youth homeless within 6 months of aging out of foster care in Santa Barbara

Civil grand jury finds problems in Santa Barbara County foster care system
Lerner, Danielle. Santa Barbara County Grand Jury Report, June 30, 2008.

An investigation by a civil grand jury finds several problems in the Santa Barbara County child welfare system.

Here are the Facts First:
* The jury investigated the county's foster care system to see how well it serves foster children.
* In a report released Monday, the jury issued five findings and recommendations on how to improve the system.

In its report, the jury labeled the county's Child Welfare Services as "a system of care that lacks stability." Now, it is up to the county to make some changes.

The nine-page report sheds new light on those services.

The number of children in foster care has shot up 81 percent since 2002, mainly because of a nationwide increase in methamphetamine abuse. The report suggests that Santa Barbara County is struggling to keep pace.

In one finding, the jury said many foster care kids are not ready for life outside the system.

"They don't have a support system, they don't have anyone to fall back on," said Steve Anselm of Family Care Network. "Once they turn 18 and exit the system, no one is there to really help them through, especially with housing."

32 percent of young people released from the system last year were homeless within six months. So now, more than ever, local agencies are ready to help.

"All our services are focused on that time, when they leave their foster home or their transitional housing, on, 'Are they ready?'" Anselm said.

A high turnover of social workers is another part of the problem, something the report says leads to inconsistencies in care.

Another tip? Better communication with group homes, foster parents and other service providers.

A Santa Barbara County spokesperson said it welcomes the criticism and remains proud of its Child Welfare Services.

"We are very appreciative of them preparing the report, and we'll be getting our responses back to them within a very short time frame," said Terri Nisich, Assistant CEO of Santa Barbara County.

A team of people from the county is busy analyzing and responding to those findings. In the next two or three months, the county's Departments of Social Services, Human Resources and the Board of Supervisors will respond in writing to each of the jury's findings.

Read the full text of the Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury report on Child Welfare Services here.

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