Thursday, August 28, 2008

Juvenile court, child welfare system - or deportation?

Court rules S.F. teen illegal needs services
Van Derbeken, Jaxon. San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 26, 2008.

A San Francisco court set aside a drug-trafficking case Monday against a 14-year-old Honduran immigrant - a ruling that juvenile justice officials fear will undermine Mayor Gavin Newsom's new policy requiring that such offenders be held for possible deportation.

Juvenile Court Commissioner Abby Abinanti concluded that the youth, identified only as Francisco G. because of his age, should be treated within the social welfare system, not as a criminal offender. If federal authorities don't intervene, the ruling would almost certainly allow him to remain in this country.

Abinanti issued her ruling after a social services official and a city attorney's representative on an advisory panel reviewed the youth's history and concluded that he should be considered a victim and thus be entitled to receive social welfare services.

Prosecutors and a third member of the panel, a Juvenile Probation Department representative, objected, citing the youth's immigration status. In the end, Abinanti ordered that the youth be turned over immediately to social workers for possible placement in a group home, according to authorities who spoke on condition of anonymity because juvenile proceedings are closed to the public.

Abinanti, through a court spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Feds see ulterior motives
Federal officials assert that placing young felons in group homes amounts to a violation of U.S. law prohibiting the aiding and abetting of illegal immigrants. They suspect that declaring drug dealers to be innocent victims is an end run around the requirement that such immigrants be handed over for possible deportation.

Monday's ruling fueled such criticism.

"I am concerned that there are people who are still attempting to find strategems to avoid compliance with federal law," said Joseph Russoniello, the U.S. attorney for Northern California, who faulted San Francisco's past practice of shielding juvenile offenders from deportation.

Advocates for youths in the juvenile courts maintain that many of the immigrant teenagers accused of drug dealing, rather than being hardened criminals, are victims of abuse, abandonment or human trafficking. They say the youths should be allowed to make a case for asylum rather than being turned over for deportation hearings.

The issue is playing out in court after articles in The Chronicle revealed that the city, which has touted itself as a sanctuary for immigrants, was paying for flights and group-home placements for illegal immigrant youths caught dealing drugs rather than turning them over for deportation.

Being deported could result in the youths being legally prevented from ever returning to the United States.

After the stories appeared, Newsom announced that he had switched course and ordered juvenile justice officials to cooperate with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. A spokesman would not talk about the case heard Monday but emphasized the mayor's policy change.

"City officials have been directed by the mayor to refer all undocumented felons to immigration, regardless of age," spokesman Nathan Ballard said. He said any contrary effort would be "inconsistent with city policy."
Boy could still be deported

Juvenile probation authorities referred Francisco G. to federal officials for possible deportation after he was arrested last month, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have placed a hold on the boy.

However, federal agents typically consider youths who are victims of abuse or neglect to be a lower priority for deportation than those found to have committed felonies such as drug dealing.

Francisco G.'s status is unclear in the wake of Abinanti's ruling Monday. It is possible that federal authorities will exercise their immigration hold on him and take custody of the boy before he is turned over to social service officials in the city.

Attorneys for Francisco G. petitioned Abinanti to set aside his criminal case for six months to allow him to be put in foster care while he seeks asylum in the United States. They say he is abandoned, has no way of contacting his parents in Honduras and wants to "better himself and his situation through the foster care system."

Francisco G.'s case was one of several since Newsom's policy reversal in which the public defender's office has petitioned courts to set aside criminal charges and allow immigrant offenders to be put in unlocked foster care homes while on informal probation.

Drug offenders are typically not entitled to such treatment. Under state law, a judge can set aside drug cases only after finding that special circumstances exist to merit such action "in the interests of justice."
Dealing crack in Tenderloin

The Honduran youth was arrested July 17 in the Tenderloin on suspicion of dealing crack cocaine, a felony. Officers saw him spit out a rock of crack and then hand it to a dealer, who sold to undercover officers, police reports say.

The assistant chief of the Juvenile Probation Department, Allen Nance, told Newsom in a recent memo that the public defender's efforts on behalf of Francisco G. showed how some immigrant youth advocates were trying "to circumvent the intentions of the mayor as it relates to undocumented minors involved in illegal drug sales."

"If this minor returns to the community, I am very concerned that he will run from a nonsecure environment," such as a group home, Nance wrote. "Further, our office is not in a position to effectively provide supervision services to an undocumented person without the risk of violating federal law."

Public Defender Jeff Adachi declined to comment. Deputy Public Defender Lisa Katz argued that Francisco G. has no criminal history and came to the United States to avoid beatings at the hands of gang members in Honduras.

In urging that the drug-dealing case be set aside, Katz said the boy was "well-suited for informal probation."

She argued that allowing him to be released "would not place the public in danger" as he is "remorseful for his actions and has a desire to better himself and his situation through the foster care system. His ambitions are strong indications that the public will not suffer further transgressions of the law."
Mother left for Spain

The boy was abandoned in Honduras by his mother, who moved to Spain, and was repeatedly beaten and harassed by gang members who stole the money she sent back to him, Katz said.

Because he is abandoned, Katz said, "like any child within our jurisdiction without a parent or guardian, he deserves the opportunity to go into foster care."

Youths who are declared victims of abandonment in juvenile criminal proceedings are sent into the social welfare system and are removed from juvenile hall.

Russoniello said immigration authorities evaluate such cases to determine whether children are abandoned.

"When someone convinces ICE that the youth is truly dependent, they would be a low-priority for (deportation)," Russoniello said. "But that is going to be the exception, considering the police are catching these guys trafficking in drugs."

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Unmet health needs of young people in and from foster care

Witnesses tell of challenges in state’s foster care system
De Gruy, Leiloni. Los Angeles Wave Papers, Aug. 8, 2008.

Foster children and social workers tell panel, convened by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, that system requires immediate attention.

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, the number of children in the county’s foster care system in 2007 fell below 25,000, compared to a peak of 52,000 in 1997.

Despite these hopeful numbers, social workers, foster parents, parents, foster children and community organizations attended a special state Assembly hearing at the California Science Center on Aug. 8 to speak with policy makers about their successes, pitfalls and what they need to fulfill their duties. The meeting was convened by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, and San Jose legislator Jim Beall Jr.

According to several social workers who testified, many foster children do not possess adequate knowledge on how to gain full access to health care, mental health services, job training and support, alternative education, transportation and other necessities.

“We have learned that long time foster care is not the solution,” said Trish Ploehn, director of Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. “Children aging out of our foster care system at the age of 18 are often unprepared with the challenges of adulthood and are too often alone, unemployed, homeless or in jail.”

On average, less than 45 percent of foster children stay in one placement for more than a year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Those children have either returned to their families, moved to another foster family or group home, been placed under supervised independent living, or become runaways.

Eighteen-year-old Chiquita Jordan, who entered the system at age 10, told the Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care of being “separated from my younger brother … It was really impossible to maintain a relationship with my little brother. He lives [in] San Pedro while I live in Compton. I didn’t know if we would ever contact [each other] again, which was painful because my little brother was the closest to me.”

She added: “When I was 14 my world started changing. My mom was trying to get our family back together but at the same time placement began to be shaky. In a period of two years, from 14 to 16, I went AWOL and was homeless on two separate occasions. I lived in three different foster homes and three different group homes. My grades slipped and I went to two different middle schools and four different high schools because I felt like nobody cared about me … I began cutting myself to numb the pain … I was told by social workers that when I get emancipated I would still get help. I needed health benefits, I wasn’t able to get those. When I was emancipated we moved to San Diego and we were homeless out there and when we came back we were still homeless and I was calling my social worker, who was not returning my call and I left several messages.”

The goal, social workers say, is to teach troubled parents how to rear their children and provide a stable environment. Parenting and family courses already being provided by such organizations as Kinship in Action and Shields for Families assess both parent and child successes and failures, then help find immediate solutions or implement step-by-step plans to get them on track.

According to Norma Mtume of Shields for Families, this course of action is most feasible, as opposed to taking children out of their homes and using more than $4.3 billion in taxpayers’ money each year for the cost of judges, social workers and foster parents.

“The cost of assessment is much less than $500 per assessment,” said Mtume, “so the return value on what we’re doing … is quite worth it.”

Said Shaunda Williams, a new parent who received such an assessment: “I had a baby about 11 months ago, I tested positive for marijuana. A social worker came to my home when I came home from the hospital, the social worker said that there were some concerns with both of my children and I needed to have an assessment to see if I should participate in the drug program. A staff person from Shields for Families came to our home and we were both [her and her partner] assessed. Shields help me enroll in a program and are now working with my family. While I attend treatment everyday, I have a seven-year-old who is picked up after school by Shields staff. He also receives counseling and help with his homework … If it weren’t for Shields, I don’t know where we would be.”

Funding and legislative support, said many of the panel’s witnesses, is essential to providing social workers with needed tools and services so that families can become stable units.

According to Wendy Luke, social worker/supervisor at the Compton office of the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services, overworked employees remain a steady obstacle improvements in the system. With several caseloads each — including those just entering foster care, those coming out of the system and those already in it — social workers find it increasingly difficult to provide the personalized services their clients often require.

Meshay Broadnax, an 18-year-old trying to transition out of foster care, said “I have been in foster care system since I was 9 years old … I have been fortunate enough to only have two placements. Although I’ve had stable placement, my social workers have been anything but stable. I am assuming that I have had about 50 social workers who all acted like they didn’t care, after 21 I stopped counting … I am unable to establish a relationship because they are in and out of my life. Social workers are unresponsive because they don’t know me. Because they have changed so often I never know how I am going to get in contact with them, primary workers that are suppose to be the advocate of my needs.”

In 2006, Broadnax became a victim of gang violence. She was shot in the ankle, which led to surgery and a rod in her leg. She needed therapy but “the new [social worker] did not understand my needs and I was constantly complaining.”

She expressed to the panel that her past experiences with social workers leads her to believe that her transition out of foster care will be difficult due to lack of support from the foster care system.

Luke suggested that “We need funding for case workers to be able to lower their caseload, to be able to ask the question, ‘What is it that you need?’ And also to be able to come back in and do their job. We also need funds for the community agencies to be able to buy the services for the families.”

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A Home Within connects foster youth with volunteer therapists

Jefferson Award: Presented to Toni Heineman
Moody, Shelah. San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 24, 2008

When Toni Heineman, a clinical professor in the pediatrics and psychiatry department at UCSF, realized that foster children in the Bay Area were not getting the mental health services they needed, she took action.

In 1994, Heineman founded a nonprofit called A Home Within, which connects foster youth with volunteer therapists in communities across the country.

"All of these children have been traumatized in some way," Heineman said. "Mostly, they come into the foster care system because they've been neglected, but they've been removed from their families - and that in and of itself is a trauma. Often, they've been removed from their families repeatedly as they go from one foster home to another. Everybody tries to make it stable, but it's really hard. It's often very difficult for them to trust people, because they have not had much experience with people actually being there day after day."

During her years of study, Heineman noticed that foster children had limited access to counseling and psychotherapy because they didn't have consistent parental care and their families didn't have much money.

"A lot of us see foster kids when we're in training as interns or residents," she said. "It's an interest that grew over time - it wasn't a sudden 'aha' moment."

After receiving a doctorate in mental health, Heineman became a licensed clinical psychologist and went into private practice in San Francisco. She chose to focus on the needs of foster children and later continued her efforts by founding A Home Within, of which she is executive director.

More than 300 therapists in chapters across the country volunteer to work with foster youths in cities including San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami and Washington. Each chapter is maintained by a clinical director who organizes the efforts of volunteer therapists and consultants.

"The concept is very simple," Heineman said. "We ask senior clinicians in the community to offer their time pro bono to lead consultation groups. For the therapists who (work with us), each of them agree to take just one child weekly for (free) psychotherapy and to work with the kid in the same way they would if the child's parents were able to pay. In other words, they work until the work is done, not because of policy changes or funding cuts or all of the other things that go along with being part of a public system.

"We're really saying that the private sector is available to help; we are part of the system, too, and we should be helping out the public system that is charged with the care of foster kids. This is one small contribution that we can make."

Heineman, who has two adult children, said she feels privileged that her young clients are willing to share their stories with her. Her motivation is to help foster children lead happy, healthy lives.
An unusual aspect of A Home Within is that its therapists and counselors continue to work with foster children after they are emancipated at age 18.

"What we are finding is that these young adults who are emancipating from the system, who for years as teenagers said that they did not want any therapy, are coming back, calling and asking to have therapy," Heineman said.

She said that her long-term goal is to make A Home Within's services available to all foster children.

"Every single child needs one stable, caring adult in their lives in order to thrive," Heineman said, "whether it's a therapist, who can help the child form better, healthier relationships with other people, or a biological parent, a caregiver or an adoptive parent."

For more information about A Home Within, go to

Each week, The Chronicle features a Bay Area resident who has won a Jefferson Award for making a difference in his or her community. The awards are administered by the American Institute for Public Service, a national foundation that honors community service. Bay Area residents profiled in The Chronicle are also featured on CBS5-TV and KCBS-AM, which are Jefferson Award media partners, along with The Chronicle.

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If you can't be a foster parent, why not be a mentor?

Wanted: Earth Angels to mentor, befriend, and encourage children in foster care
DeRegnier, Diana. American Chronicle, Aug. 28. 2008.

So often we hear about abject poverty of children in other countries. Less often, we learn about the circumstances 800,000 American children face which results in their being taken into foster care.

The intent of this article is not to compare the misfortunes of one with the other but to serve as a reminder that severe deprivation exists close to home which can be best remedied with a generous dose of compassion, attention and guidance.

If you are unprepared for taking a foster child into your home, there is still much you can do. Money is always needed, yet more important are the needs that bear no cost but time and integrity. What these children hunger for most lies in the heart and soul of adults and peers.

As a former foster child I remain alert to how society deals with children who have become wards of the court through no fault of their own. The best presentation I have ever seen was the 2006 ABC Primetime feature "Calling All Angels" with Diane Sawyer. For once, the foster care system was presented from the perspective of children who had been bounced from one home or facility to another, always longing for the parental love most children take for granted.

On that Thursday night in June, Primetime was preempted for more than 10 minutes for the enthralling end of the National Spelling Bee which was guaranteed to draw millions of viewers. While the audience and contestants bemoaned yet another delay for commercials and a re-staging of a supposedly spontaneous moment with the finalists, home viewers may have wondered how ABC could cut into the feature program on children in foster care that had been promoted for days.

As if preplanned, one spelling bee contestant had been tripped up by the word "weltschmerz" which Spelling Bee officials defined as a comparison of idealism to the real world. The Encarta online Dictionary calls it "sadness felt at the imperfect state of the world, especially at the behavior of human beings." They would have done well to cut to Primetime for examples.

Moments after Katherine Close won the competition, she was asked how important it is to have her parents' support. Katherine answered, "So important. You can't do anything without moral support." Katherine Close may not have known the power of her statement in light of the program that was to follow. In that moment of synchronicity Katherine became an advocate for "Calling All Angels," which had been billed as an appeal to the nation for each of us to step up in support of dispossessed children.

Diane Sawyer finally began the program with video clips of foster children struggling to count in their head how many foster homes and placements they have been in. Yet, if you didn't hear the words, you wouldn't know that they are any different than any other children caught in a quiet, pensive moment. They are clean, well-mannered and composed. They calmly tell us that they have been taken from their parents due to neglect and abuse, yet their wish for when they grow up is again and again to be a fireman, nurse, crime fighter or super-hero – "someone who can help people." And we realize the courage and generosity of the young survivors.

When Ruben's three younger brothers were adopted he was devastated. "It hurts a lot to be rejected," he says. Perhaps foster parents believe he is too old to need them. Ruben has never been able to call a place his. It was always "somebody's house, not my house." But Ruben refuses to give up. Even at 18 Ruben clings to hope that someone will open their doors and their hearts to make him part of a family.

Ruben and his brothers were removed from their mother because of neglect. Yet 10 years later he remains devoted to her memory. He says he wants to fulfill her wish for him to be happy and to do good things. "If you give up you're a loser, and I'm no loser," Ruben declares.

Fifteen year old James, who lived in 11 homes before he was adopted, imparts wisdom easily missed by those from better circumstances: "When you bounce from place to place, you lose a piece of you every time you move." Later in the program, they cut to another clip of James and his voice quivers as he tells us, "You should be extra kind to these children, they've been through a lot." Has he forgotten that he's one of them?

For the first time I've ever seen, national television has gone straight to the children to learn about the hell-holes they have come from. We hear their testimony rather than parents bemoaning their lot. In the children's eyes and visible hearts we see wounds and scars inflicted in unimaginable conditions. Those near the age when social services will no longer be available to them show fear. On the lips of each is "what's going to happen to me then?" Yet they profess tenacity, more hope than hopelessness, and determination to rise above their circumstances.

Diane Sawyer moves cautiously into facts behind the children's rescues. Latest statistics cite 800,000 children passing through the system each year; 500,000 are taken into foster care; 118,000 are available for adoption. In an already inadequate and burgeoning system, methamphetamine use has spawned an epidemic of abusive and negligent parents. Civic leaders call upon Faith communities to help with the rising crisis.

Before meeting children who are among the most severely traumatized, Sawyer introduces us to Sky Tanghe, a devoted social worker at Maryhurst, a unique facility in Louisville, Kentucky. Maryhurst offers nine programs for 600 of the state's most vulnerable and troubled young girls. Sky considers herself fortunate to have a caseload of 19 rather than the 30 – 60 cases workers in some areas of the country are expected to manage.

Emily Smith, another counselor at Maryhurst, was once a resident. "This isn't a job for me. This is a love for me," she says.

Judy Lambeth, CEO and president, tells us the children at Maryhurst are those who nobody else can handle. "They hate themselves so much they can't handle success." Maryhurst offers the last chance to develop tools for re-entry into society.

Asked what is the most important thing the children need. Lambeth replies, "I would want for all our girls, our kids, to have one adult in their life that they can count on for the rest of their lives."
Eleven year old Summer is, at once, typical and unique. When Summer was taken from her drug-addicted mother a doctor had to surgically remove cockroaches from her ears. Since the age of six, Summer had been molested by men who paid her mother to have sex with them.

Summer was adopted by the Sally and Wayne Meyers. The Meyers regret having to relinquish Summer but they must protect the three younger children.

We are told that those who have been sexually abused often act out as a form of power, affection and manipulation. Something they don't say in the program is that sometimes sexual abuse is the most affectionate touching the child has received. Sometimes, that is the only time they hear anyone say "I love you." It may become the only way they know how to ask for attention, comfort and reassurance that they are valued.

Summer works hard for perfect grades. Try that after attending numerous schools and with memories of violence, sex and drugs running through your mind.

Summer is sure her adopted mom wants her back. The mother does not. She asks Summer, "Is it safe to bring you back home?"

Summer answers "No." Then quickly changes the subject to something pretty, "Look over there," she says and points to blooming Daffodils.

Summer's favorite song is "Jesus Take the Wheel" by Carrie Underwood: "Oh, I'm letting go. So give me one more chance. Save me from this road I'm on."

Diane tells Summer she has beautiful eyelashes. "You do too," Summer says.

Diane tells Summer hers are false and invites her to take them off. Summer gently lifts one and pulls back with a groan. "Ooh!" they both laugh.

At bedtime Summer drags a pillow and blanket to the floor where she prefers to sleep. Diane tells us, "For tonight, no one can come in and hurt her."

Still, there is a spark in this damaged little girl that will not be extinguished. When Diane asked who she would be if she could be anyone in the world, Summer says, "I want to be myself -- not anybody else. Just me. … Because I wanna learn my real self."

Another child followed in "Calling All Angels" is 14 year old Whitney who cuts herself. Though her mother is a drug addict Whitney thinks she caused her mother's problems. Whitney's mother also grew up in foster care.

In the last four years Whitney has lived in five foster homes. Yet she takes full responsibility for her behavior. "It was my decision to skip school. It was my decision to do drugs. It was my decision to stay out all night."

Judy Lambeth says that girls like Whitney can benefit from the highly structured, intensive team approach to treatment and the belief that "if somebody cares for you when you're at your worst – and that's true for all of us -- then we know we're loved."

Lambeth goes on to say, "When you know their history in the context of meeting them and seeing them, then you see the hope."

Many may remember in the news in 2003, four New Jersey brothers who had been adopted by a couple who then starved and beat them. Authorities finally stepped in when the oldest was caught rummaging through garbage cans for something to eat. At 19 he weighed only 45 pounds. His brother Keith was 14 and weighed 40 pounds; the 10 year old, 28 pounds; and the 9 year old, 23 pounds.

Now adopted by Fulvia Mitchell, Keith has changed even his name. He is now Tre Shawn Mitchell in honor of a new brother and cousin. Tre has gained 90 pounds and has grown 13 inches.

When the boys first came to live with Fulvia they would ask permission for every normal behavior. They asked if they could go to the bathroom or brush their teeth or watch television. Tre ate constantly until his new mother took him to the kitchen, "I showed him that the cupboards are full. The refrigerator is full. I am not going to deprive him, or mistreat him, that he is safe," his guardian said.

Over the next few days "Calling all Angels" was followed by other ABC News programs with "A Call for Action" on World News Tonight; Night Line; Good Morning America; and 20/20.

One segment addressed "aging out" regarding children near the age when they will no longer qualify for foster care programs, mentoring programs like Adoptment and the Torch Program, a resource in Pittsburg that focuses on an alternatives to foster care and the trend to internet adoption.

We were introduced to Heart Photography, a national network of professional photographers who have replaced the children's traditional file mug shots with museum quality photographs that also appear in exhibits across the country.

The ABC News Web site provided video clips from the programs; full-length articles by researchers for the shows; links to 20 child welfare organizations nation-wide; and message boards to communicate with other viewers about what was seen and felt. Ruben, whose brothers were adopted, generates the most discussion and numerous offers to adopt him despite his age.

There were few postings regarding the Spelling Bee.

In the background of a video clip of a little girl named Amanda, who was being photographed for an exhibit, another girl stood sideways near the wall, clearly in the camera's line. She stood silent, shrouded in sadness, then slowly moved out of view.

Representing the Torch Program is Doug Anderson, a retired vice-president of a major Wall Street investment firm. He was also once a child in foster care. Anderson is now a mentor: "These children need something other than the system," he tells us.

Among the success stories, we find a father, Howard, who cleaned up his drug addiction, got a job and took parenting classes. Howard tells us the benefits of his changes are that his children say I love you, and he adds, "I heard them say good morning."

Any gesture, big or small, beneficial or detrimental, in a foster child's life will impact them for life. Everything has meaning, amplified by their circumstances. Please find a way that feeds your soul to also feed theirs.

By coincidence, one segment of The Oprah Show today is about children in foster care. Her audience has collected 34,000 pairs of pajamas for foster children. And I guarantee, those pajamas will be treasured as much for the act of generosity and caring as for the comfort and warmth they will bring.

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Kinship caregivers need financial and emotional support

Filling a family need
Raising grandchildren is a little easier with the Kinship program
Wilson, Eileen. Press-Tribune, Sept. 19, 2008.

For many Placer County residents, life follows a predictable path. Everyone grows up, some get married and raise children. The real fun for many people begins when grandchildren arrive on the scene.

But for a surprisingly large number of Placer County families, the life they’ve planned isn’t necessarily the life they will lead.

According to figures from the 2000 census, 1,600 children in Placer County alone were being raised by a grandparent.

Enter the new Kinship Support Services Program, a support and coaching service for grandparents and others raising children not their own.

The Kinship Program, offered at both Roseville and Auburn Family Resource Centers, is overseen by the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Placer County. The program is a collaboration of efforts, funded by Placer Health and Human Services and the state of California, to help families who are raising kin – someone else’s children.

Folks raising grandkids is not a new phenomenon. Kin-kids, as the program calls them, are becoming increasingly common, and are more recognized than in the past.

There are many reasons parents relinquish children, including illness or death, military deployment, and substance abuse, to name a few.

Special issues go along with raising kin-kids. A grandparent, absent from the educational system for years, may have trouble navigating today’s increasingly complex school requirements.

“Imagine being 50, 60, 70, or even 80 years old and trying to understand ‘new math,’ or why a teen wants to get his lip pierced,” said Colleen Johnson, Kinship case manager and outreach coordinator.

Johnson said grandparents or other caregivers oftentimes have guardianship issues. They may not have legal custody of children, and therefore have difficulty enrolling them in school, consenting to medical treatment, providing medical insurance or absorbing the cost of kids who suddenly are placed in their care.

“It’s not uncommon for these families to have grandkids dropped off on a weekend with no clothing, photos, anything from their past,” Johnson said.

Grandparents, of course, aren’t the only relatives taking children in. Aunts, uncles, family friends and adult siblings frequently take on a parental role as well.

“One of the things I’ve learned in this program is that everybody’s family situation is so different,” said Kathleen Shenk, deputy director of the Child Abuse Prevention Council.

“Caregivers stretch over the entire demographic spectrum. It’s an issue affecting all economic levels.”

Kinship is a comprehensive program offering numerous services such as counseling, support groups, caregiving, case management and systems navigation, legal assistance for guardianship, adoption, foster care and more.

In addition, with the help of regular volunteers, the program offers a weekly six-hour summer enrichment class where kids participate in arts and crafts, computer and science projects, park visits and activities.

“They come home with a bundle under their arm – you can see they’re just tickled to death,” Johnson said of the art projects kids create.

It’s a combination of academic support, enrichment and overall play, Shenk agreed. The center also plans to offer after-school tutoring in the fall.

In addition to valuable playtime for the kids, six hours gives caregivers a much-needed respite. Adults can use the time to work with their case manager, attend a support group, run errands, or simply have an afternoon to themselves.

“Just the support group is such an important component,” Johnson said. “Not only do grandparents have a support network where they can share experiences, but the kids have a network of other kids, so they know they’re not the only ones being raised by non-parents. It’s such a relief to be in a group where you can talk freely about your situation.”

In addition to supporting kin-caregivers and kids, the program supports the children’s biological parents as much as possible.

“This program believes in the family as a whole,” Johnson said. “The adult children can come in and get support as well. We want to keep the family bond as tight as possible.”

In addition to the Kinship Program, Roseville and Auburn Family Resource Centers offer a Home First program for new and expecting parents.

Home First provides education on prenatal care, breast feeding, shaken baby syndrome, child development and more, and includes in-home visits from professional staff.

Johnson feels the best part of the agency is they offer so many prevention services, which is key.

“They (kin-caregivers) should be reminded that they’re heroes, they keep their families together,” she said.

The center relies on regular volunteers to keep the Kinship Program running smoothly. Contact Heather Tooker (530) 887-3536 for volunteer opportunities. For more information about any of Child Abuse Prevention Council’s programs, or to make a donation, visit

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New Blue Ribbon Foster Care Report

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College application bootcamps provide educational counseling and a portfolio

College Summit encourages low-income high school seniors with average grades
Rivera, Carla. Los Angeles Times, Aug. 17, 2008.

"I'm a natural born-hustler," begins the essay written by Inglewood High School senior Marquise Foster. "The only lesson I ever learned from my family is the 'art of hustling.' It's an art that has been perfected in my South Central neighborhood for generations. . . . The word 'hustle' is often portrayed negatively, as something associated with crime or wrongdoing. In my community, a hustle is a means of survival."

Marquise, 17, carefully crafted a powerful story of tragedy and accomplishment, of his drug dealer father shot dead by police, of his hard-pressed mother placing him in foster care, of recommitting to his faith.

He hopes that his introspection will catch the eye of college admissions directors, that they'll see potential in a young man with average grades but plenty of self-confidence.

Marquise is among 250 seniors from local high schools who spent part of their summer at college application boot camps where students received one-on-one counseling and left with a portfolio that included a draft of the all-important personal essay.

The sessions were sponsored by College Summit, a nonprofit organization that partners with schools to increase college enrollment among low-income students with middling grades but strong leadership qualities.

Founded in 1993, College Summit operates in 170 high schools in 13 states, including six schools in Southern California, in the Los Angeles and Inglewood districts.

Its goal is to create a culture in which college is expected of all students, not only those with high grade point averages and test scores.

Krystal Greene is the College Summit advisor at Inglewood High School. She helps students work on their college applications and plan long- and short-term goals.

"Many come in the door saying, 'I'm going to this two-year school because my cousin went there,' and they haven't done any research," said Greene, who also teaches AP English literature. "They need to know that even if you have [a grade point average in the] twos, you can still go to a college; you can go to a Cal State. I see more students who are excited and expecting to go to college now."

A report by the Washington-based Education Trust said that the highest-achieving low-income students go to college at about the same rate as the lowest-achieving students from wealthy families. College Summit schools are seeing improvements, though, having raised the college-going rate of low-income students by 15% in the last two years, compared to a 4% rise among low-income students nationally.

Morningside and Inglewood high schools, where the program is in place, had an increase of 7% and 10%, respectively, in enrollment at UCs, state colleges and state community colleges between 2004 and 2006, according to data collected by California education agencies, College Summit said.

Next year, Inglewood and Arleta high schools will become the first College Summit partners in Southern California to begin measuring college enrollment for all students. Sylmar, Crenshaw and James Monroe high schools are the program's other local partners.

"There is a lot of untapped talent out there," said College Summit founder J.B. Schramm. "For some students, the lightbulb comes on in the fifth grade, and for some it's in the 10th grade. Everybody has their unique path. We need to have a system in schools to help these students."

Schools are selected based on the support of districts and principals and on need, including graduation rates, college enrollment rates, access to Advanced Placement classes and numbers of classroom computers and college counselors. At least 40% of the students should qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

College Summit provides a yearlong college planning class during the senior year, trains students to be role models for their peers and equips teachers and counselors with college resources. The program begins in the summer with four days of workshops that focus on writing essays.

"College Summit allows students to do the kind of introspection we look for during the selection process," said Matt Ward, dean of undergraduate enrollment at California Lutheran University, which held a recent College Summit workshop for 50 Sylmar and Inglewood students. "Obviously, we want to make sure students can do the work so they thrive here, but we also want to know what attributes they bring to the table to make our campus a better place."

During the writing session, coaches helped students mine their personal histories, personality traits, likes and dislikes and painful emotions to create compelling narratives.

"We're empowering them to feel like they're writers," said coach Celso Delgado Jr., a volunteer who works as a mental health occupational therapist. "Some of them walked out today and said they had never written that way before or told anyone these things."

In Marquise Foster's essay, he wrote of hustling his first job at age 13 as a sign holder for Cingular Wireless -- telling a "white lie" that he was 16 to get the job. Five months later, when the company caught on, he went to work at a Creole restaurant as a busboy, leaving three years later as assistant lead cook.

Eventually, he succumbed to the gang scene: "That thug lifestyle my father perfected had slowly but surely worked its way into my bloodstream and changed the child my mother raised into a menace to society."

After entering the foster care system, Marquise made school and God a priority.

"I'm taking my newfound knowledge about life and the personal growth I've had, and running with it," he wrote. "I'm confident that at the end of my route I'll find success waiting. Once found, my success will become my life's true hustle."

Craig Best, 16, also an Inglewood senior, wrote about how a library book he happened upon -- "The Girl in a Swing," by Richard Adams -- led to a personal epiphany.

"I would stop and reread a line," he wrote. "Reread it, inhale it and begin to dream. I dreamt of a world entirely different from my own, calm, simple and undoubtedly serene. . . . I found that if I could be exposed to something as powerful as that, by doing something as little as picking up a book, there had to be an infinite number of sensations out there, waiting for me to uncover them."

Best said that before the writing session, he didn't feel he had anything interesting to put into a personal essay. He was encouraged to write not about what he thought a college wanted to hear, but about what he thought was important.

He didn't try to make it sound good, he said. But it came out that way.

"I now see the world as an unsolved jigsaw puzzle, with an infinite array of pieces suspended above me," he wrote. "All I have to do is reach up and grab them. They are waiting for me, they are waiting for all of us."

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15-minute hearings to decide living situations of vulnerable foster children

Foster children underserved by courts, report finds
A California commission recommends smaller caseloads for social workers, lawyers and judges serving the 80,000 kids in the system statewide

Therolf, Garrett. Los Angeles Times, Aug. 16, 2008.

California's 80,000 foster children -- nearly 27,000 in Los Angeles County -- are underserved by deeply stressed courts and government agencies, and the hearings that decide their living situations often last no more than 15 minutes, according to a report released Friday.

The report is the result of two years of work by a blue-ribbon commission established by California Chief Justice Ronald George and makes dozens of recommendations to the judicial system, the Legislature and the counties that operate the foster care system.

Key among the recommendations was a call to replace with judges the referees and commissioners who oversee dependency cases.

"This was not to put down referees or commissioners who have labored in those courts for a long time, but by using judges, it would indicate that the court considers this work to be at the top in terms of seriousness and importance," Carlos Moreno, commission chairman and a state Supreme Court associate justice, said in an interview.

The report also recommended smaller caseloads for all authorities involved, including social workers, attorneys and judges.

The entire juvenile court system has fewer than 150 full- and part-time judges and commissioners working on foster care, with caseloads averaging 1,000 each. Lawyers for these courts average 273 cases apiece -- in some counties 500 to 600 -- and often do not meet the children and parents they are representing until moments before hearings.

Jasmine Smith, a 20-year-old Inglewood resident in foster care, said in an interview, "I'm not usually able to say anything when we go to court. I usually speak with my lawyer for maybe five minutes just before the hearing. Nothing is taken care of because no one is prepared. It's always, 'Let's make another appointment.' "

Although Smith remains in foster care, many children are released from the system at 18. The commission recommended that the age for foster care assistance be extended in all cases to 21.

"I don't think any parent would allow a child to go into the world without any support at 18 years of age, and we shouldn't either," Moreno said. "There is a high moral and financial cost because so many of our foster children become homeless or incarcerated."

At a meeting of the California Judicial Council on Friday, the report's recommendations were unanimously endorsed, and Moreno predicted swift reforms within the court system.

The commission's other recommendations focused on preventing the need to take children from their parents; placing a new priority on dependency cases within the court system; improving coordination between the courts, attorneys and social service agencies; and providing more resources and money to the juvenile courts.

Moreno acknowledged that his commission's recommendations would be a hard sell in some cases this year as the state contends with a $15.2-billion budget deficit, but he said he remains hopeful.

"We emphasized recommendations that require no money at all -- it doesn't take more money for people to talk to each other more, for example -- but when it comes to the recommendations that do require additional funds we think we will find receptive ears," Moreno said. "Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and the governor have made foster kids a priority."

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Massive reforms to California juvenile dependency courts

Judges vow to fix state's foster-care court
Judges approve reforms - can state pay for them?
de Sá, Karen. San Jose Mercury News, Sept. 16, 2008.

The California courts approved massive reforms on Friday to the state's troubled juvenile dependency courts that would ease the overwhelmed system and ensure fairness for those who are "literally and legally the children of the state."

Finding unconscionable the overloaded dockets that leave only minutes for hearings that determine critical issues for 75,000 California children in foster care, the state Judicial Council approved measures that would include more judges to hear dependency cases and more lawyers to represent impoverished family members.

"Children are our future, and I can't imagine any more effort that's as integral to society and our judicial system," said Chief Justice Ronald George, who led the council in calling for change.

The vote of the Judicial Council - the governing body for the state courts - adopts the recommendations of a statewide commission that George appointed in 2006 to study the problems of the dependency courts, which operate largely in secret and are often treated as the less-prestigious stepchild of the court system.

The measures approved by the council would address many of the critical problems identified in the February Mercury News series "Broken Families, Broken Courts," which revealed an overburdened system that too often poorly serves both the children it is designed to protect, and the parents accused of abuse or neglect. The series documented a system in which overloaded attorneys routinely meet with clients minutes before their hearings, if at all, and often fail to properly investigate or present their cases.

The next question will be funding changes to the system - the state Legislature is already at an impasse over how to solve its $15.2 billion deficit. As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed one bill last month that sailed through the Legislature in response to the newspaper articles - a measure designed to make sure that children are aware of their hearings and given the chance to attend - he expressed concern over the costs at a time when the state is strapped for money.

But the chief justice Friday said a "golden opportunity" exists to enact the 79 specific measures - many of which do not involve significant costs. Court officials intend to push implementation of the widespread measures both at the state and county levels in the coming months.

Among the 42 members of the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care that drafted the recommendations is newly named Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, who has focused her career on improving the state's foster care system.

Smaller caseloads
The Judicial Council's newly approved list of reforms calls for attorney caseloads of no more than 188 clients, although in some counties, lawyers for children and parents attempt to juggle as many as 600 cases. The council called for all dependency cases to be heard by judges, although in many counties referees and commissioners serve as substitutes for judges. In great swaths of the state, judicial officers are assigned upward of 1,300 families at any given time - hundreds more than the 250 recommended by national experts. The Judicial Council will now seek to lower judicial caseloads, but in return will ask for minimum three-year assignments.

William Vickery, administrative director of the statewide court system, said California became too reliant on lower-level judicial officers in the critical, but low-status dependency courts. For judges, he said, "it's never been on the radar screen. It's something that's been in the back room or the cellar."

In calling for more judges and more reasonable caseloads, blue ribbon commission members told the Judicial Council that it is the only "ethically defensible" position to take, given that "dependency cases represent the most intrusive form of governmental intervention."

Friday's Judicial Council vote embraced the commission's list of proposed reforms, in some cases with strengthened language.

Attorneys' competence
The council is seeking a system to ensure attorney competency and effectiveness, and the appointment of attorneys for all children when their cases are appealed to the higher courts.

The Judicial Council also is seeking action to address the longstanding problem that hearings to remove children from their homes disproportionately involve families of color. The council approved steps to reduce the number of African-American and American Indian children in the system, while increasing the diversity and cultural competence of the courts' workforce.

To highlight the need, Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno pointed to San Francisco, where African-American children are 9 percent of the city's population, and 70 percent of those in foster care, he said.

Central to the reform efforts ahead is a plan to prevent the removal of children from their homes whenever possible, and to call on federal authorities to grant more money for child abuse prevention and reunification services.

But California dependency system reformers believe the courts can do a better job whittling down the number of cases in which children must be removed from homes - which, they say, will lower the costs of caring for children in foster care. Those savings should be reinvested in supports for troubled families before they enter the court system, the commission reported, resulting in a long-term savings "by reducing the number of former foster children who become homeless, dependent on welfare, and incarcerated as adults."

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ACE Scholar Services

University fosters care for foster students
New program guarantees admission to qualifying foster care graduates
Rodriguez, Nelsy. North County Times, Aug. 14, 2008.

TEMECULA ---- Having moved among nine foster homes since she was 11, it was only natural that Kerri Pierce's first concern upon entering college would be housing.

"As soon as they leave the foster system, (foster children) don't have anywhere to go," said Pierce, a 19-year-old former foster child who came from a family of six children and has remained together with her twin sister, Corri Pierce.

Now the young women attend Cal State San Bernardino and, during the school year, live in a small two-bedroom house on the campus, which Kerri Pierce says is a lot more convenient.

"We found it very quiet. There were no kids running around," she said.

Pierce, who is entering her junior year at the California State University, could have benefited from a program signed into action this week between the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services and Cal State San Marcos.

The program, dubbed ACE Scholar Services, will form close ties with students in the county foster care system to help them apply for college, guarantee their admission, support them emotionally and assist them financially throughout their years of higher education to increase their chances of graduating.

"(Education) has been the one thing in life that no one could take away from me," Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone said during the Tuesday press conference held for the signing of the agreement between the county and the school. "Foster children are basically off on their own, unfortunately. This opens the gates toward higher education for our underprivileged youth."

More than 4,000 youth are enrolled in the county's foster care system. Each year, about 550 "age out" of the system at 18, county officials said. At that point, the teens suddenly find themselves on their own.

Jim Mickelson, who will run the ACE program for Cal State San Marcos, said the school typically receives about 10,000 applications a year and admits about 1,400 new students.

Through the program, any person enrolled in county foster care who completes college prerequisite courses will automatically be accepted as one of the 1,400 to join the San Marcos student body.

"Many of them don't think it's possible," Mickelson said. "But college is possible."

Foster care students also will be guided through the application process and receive help securing federal and university grants, which can help offset the expense of attending school.

Pierce, who attends Cal State San Bernardino, said she welcomes the day when more people in her situation are helped to achieve all they can.

After her mother left home, Pierce and her five natural siblings remained with their father, she said. When he couldn't care for them, the siblings were split up and sent through different homes. An older sister stayed with a grandmother, a younger sister moved in with an aunt. Several younger siblings were taken to Oregon, and Pierce and her twin remained in the foster system until landing with their most recent caregivers in 2006.

Though the chaos of moving through four different high schools might have dampened some students' dedication to academic success, Pierce and her sister stuck together to work on improving their grades.

And though they had missed out on the years of discussion that many families engage in before a graduate ships off to college, by the time the Pierce sisters reached their last foster home, the two were already mentally college-bound. Pierce said that was largely because she entered an independent living program that helped her search for grants and fill out college applications, which will be one of the services offered by ACE.

But students in her position could use much more help, she said.

"If they're the only people trying to keep their dreams alive, no one's going to help them out with it," Pierce said.


Overstressed dependency courts need reform

Taking action for our foster children
Moreno, Carlos. San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 15, 2008.

Our state has been understandably preoccupied with the heat of wildfires and budget disputes this summer, but there's another crisis on the horizon - one that we can manage if we commit to taking decisive and bold action. This crisis concerns the well-being of children in foster care.

More specifically, it concerns the state of our juvenile dependency courts. Every one of the nearly 80,000 children in foster care in California comes before our dependency courts multiple times. Yet a two-year investigation by the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care found an overstressed and under-resourced court system, in which our most vulnerable children and families do not routinely get the attention and services we know they deserve.

This statewide commission, appointed by the chief justice in 2006, found that a number of factors contribute to this crisis. There are fewer than 150 full- and part-time judicial officers across the whole state, and full-time judicial officers have an average caseload of 1,000. It is no surprise that, although our juvenile court judges and commissioners are committed to making fair and impartial decisions about children and families, the participants in juvenile dependency court are not always afforded a meaningful opportunity to participate in their cases. Hearings are only 10 to 15 minutes on average, hardly enough time to get a full picture of a child's hopes or needs, to make critical decisions on services and follow-up. Hearing delays and continuances are routine.

Court attorneys who represent children and families in court have caseloads averaging 273; in a few counties, this rises to more than 600. Some children and parents do not even meet their attorneys until the day of their hearings, when they hear their names called in a crowded waiting room or hallway.

The Blue Ribbon Commission is issuing a series of recommendations today in an urgent call for reform of our juvenile dependency courts. Our recommendations fall into four categories:

Prevention and permanency, to help keep families together whenever it is safe and possible to do so. This includes returning children to their homes as soon as all court-mandated services have been met or finding placement in another permanent home when removal is necessary. It also means increasing efforts to find relatives and family members and addressing the thorny problem of the disproportionate numbers of African American and Native American children in foster care.

Court reforms, the heart and soul of our recommendations. Quite simply, we intend to change the way we do business in dependency court. The commission urges reasonable caseloads for judges, court attorneys and social workers. We want to ensure that children and parents have a meaningful voice in court. Judges make life-changing decisions about children's lives - where they will live and with whom. How can they rule in the best interest of each child if they are not able to hear the full story of each family?

Better collaboration between the courts and our partners. Many families who come before our bench are involved with more than one governmental agency at a time, yet these bureaucracies rarely communicate with one another. We must eliminate the barriers to sharing data and information that too often mean families receive different, even conflicting, direction and case plans. Lack of coordination between the courts and our partners means children sometimes remain in care longer than necessary.

Funding. The commission recognizes the fiscal realities in our state, and not all of our recommendations require new funding. But we believe no child or family should be denied critical services because of funding restraints. We call on the courts and our partner agencies to prioritize children in foster care in allocating services and resources. We urge reform of regulations that prevent agencies from pooling and coordinating funds for important services. And we call on the federal government to allow us to use federal foster care funds - currently restricted for use only after a child is removed from his or her family - for prevention services to support families in their homes.

In the end, we know that if our recommendations are successfully implemented, the state will save money. Fewer children will be placed in foster care or costly group homes, and the reforms will pay for themselves. But we have an obligation to act quickly. After all, time moves slowly in the eyes of a child. Removal from a parent is almost always a traumatic event, and even a month in a stranger's home can seem an eternity.

We believe the Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations are feasible and fiscally responsible. They can make a difference where it counts most - in the lives of children and their families.

Carlos R. Moreno, a state Supreme Court associate justice, is chair of the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care. He is also a foster parent.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kudos to these California colleges

Riverside County, Cal State San Marcos, sign agreement to help foster kids at college
Glick, Julia. Press-Enterprise, Aug. 12, 2008.

Public colleges in the region are creating new programs to recruit and nurture former foster children, often left with little or no financial or family support once they reach 18 years old.

Cal State San Marcos signed an agreement Tuesday with Riverside County, guaranteeing admission to all qualified young people raised in the county's foster-care system.

"It truly is going to affect many, many people and change lives that may have had a rough beginning," County Supervisor Jeff Stone said before the memorandum of understanding was signed at the university's off-campus center in Temecula.

This is the first such agreement Riverside County has made with a college, but the county will pursue similar opportunities for foster children, said Susan Loew, Department of Public Social Services director.

Riverside County has more than 4,000 children in its foster-care system. About 550 of them are emancipated each year, usually at age 18.

Once foster children age out of the system, only about 10 percent attend higher education, and about 2 percent go on to graduate, Loew said.

Several colleges in the region, including Cal State San Marcos, have started programs that offer scholarships, mentoring, career counseling and other support to help former foster children once they have enrolled.

Cal State San Bernardino began its program in 2003. UC Riverside is currently raising money to establish similar services for its students.

Cal State's one-year-old program, known as ACE Scholar Services, will dovetail nicely with the new agreement, helping to support the Riverside County students after they are admitted, said university president Karen Haynes.

This year, the school received about 12,000 applications for about 1,500 spots, she said. The rapidly growing university has to turn away or wait-list some applicants even if they meet admission requirements, Haynes said.

But the school promises that former Riverside County foster children who meet Cal State requirements -- such as a high school diploma or GED, and qualifying test scores and grades -- will have a place at the university, she said.

"We are taking one barrier away. They do their part, meet requirements and we'll do ours," said the university's ACE Scholar director Jim Mickelson.

Karri Pierce, 19, a former foster child who lives in Riverside, was present when county and university officials signed the agreement Tuesday.

Pierce, who is a junior at Cal State San Bernardino, said the agreement was encouraging.

She lived with nine families and attended 17 schools during her 11 years in foster care, she said. She said she had to struggle to keep up academically through so many transitions. Also, some adults discouraged her from even considering higher education, she said.

She said she hopes the agreement and other efforts will make it easier for her younger siblings, still in the foster-care system, to follow in her footsteps.

"I am looking forward to a day when every single university offers foster children this kind of opportunity," she said.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Poor economy leads to shortage of foster homes

As prices rise, Inland foster care families trim costs, refuse new children
Zimmerman, Janet. Press-Enterprise, Aug. 12, 2008.

Soaring gas and food prices have foster parents scrambling to make ends meet, and child welfare advocates warn that the faltering economy could exacerbate a shortage of homes for placing abused and neglected children.

Some families have moved into smaller homes or the stay-at-home parent has had to get a paying job, so they take fewer or no foster children, social workers said. The problem would be aggravated by a proposed 10 percent funding cut to balance the state budget, they said.

"The way the economy's been going, we have lost homes because the rate they've been receiving has not kept up with the cost of living," said Emmanuel Humphries, chief executive officer at Alpha Treatment Center's Foster Family Agency in Riverside. "It hurts them, it hurts the system, it hurts children they could have benefited."

Alpha, a private agency serving Southern California, lost three foster families in the past year because the breadwinner had to take a lesser-paying job and the families moved to smaller homes, he said.

Kathy and Robert Culviner lost their five-bedroom Menifee home and had to move to a three-bedroom rental in Aguanga this spring. The couple, who have three children of their own, stopped taking foster children. They were certified by Alpha to care for three children at a time.

Kathy Culviner said she had already cut her hours on her postal carrier route to have more time at home when her husband's business, refurbishing and installing office cubicles, declined and they couldn't make their house payment.

Christine Portales, left, and her husband, Jaime Portales, say they have started clipping grocery coupons, making more soups and stews and cooking from scratch to cut back on expenses. Some children arrived at their home with just the clothes on their backs.

"We would have kids in the home if the reimbursement were higher and it was not so much out of pocket," said Kathy Culviner, a product of the foster care system who has taken in about 50 children since she became licensed 11 years ago.

Depending on the ages of the child, the state pays $624 to $790 per month for those in private foster family agencies, which typically provide intensive treatment to children who might otherwise be placed in a group home. Licensed foster homes, for children with the fewest needs for support and services, receive $446 to $627 monthly.

The money is to cover room and board, extracurricular activities, toys, personal items and any other living expenses.

Some foster parents said they are barely hanging on.

Christine Portales, who cares for four children at her Colton home, borrowed $80 from a neighbor last month so she could get gas. She sometimes drives 130 miles a day, ferrying the children to their medical and therapy appointments, court-ordered visitation with their families and gymnastics lessons.

Foster father Jaime Portales says he is considering going to school to learn a new trade because of layoff fears.

Portales said she's also seen her grocery bill jump from $175 a week to $275.

"Because fuel prices have gone up, the utilities have gone up, the food has gone up, everything has gone up, except what you get for the kids," Portales said. "I figure I'm paying out of my pocket to take care of these kids."

The children are ages 10, 7, 6 weeks and 4 weeks. Three of them came to live with Portales within one week in June, and it takes a couple of months to receive the first state payment.

The three youngest children came with just the clothes on their back. The emergency clothing allowance Portales requested hasn't arrived, she said.

So Portales and her husband, Jaime, have cut back on expenses.

Christine Portales drives as much as 130 miles a day to take the children to medical and therapy appointments, and to family visitation.

She has started using grocery coupons, making more soups and stews and cooking from scratch. Jaime, afraid of getting laid off from his job as a cement contractor, is considering going to school to learn a new trade.

The Portaleses skipped a family trip to Disneyland because they couldn't afford it.

County social services officials said it's hard to determine just how much impact the economy has had on foster care and that any effects may not be reflected in statistics for a year or two.

In California, about 80,000 children are in the foster care system.

Fewer Homes Available
The number of licensed foster homes in California has declined over the past decade by about 3,000 homes and more than 18,000 potential placements, according to a report last year by the County Welfare Directors Association of California.

Sayori Baldwin, deputy director of Riverside County's Department of Public Social Services, said many factors contribute to the drop, including a recent emphasis on reuniting families and having children cared for by relatives, and getting them into adoptive homes more quickly.

In Riverside County, the number of children and the number of homes in use declined in all placement areas -- county foster care, private foster family agencies, group homes and with relatives -- in the first quarter of 2007 versus the same period in 2008, according to a quarterly report by the Children's Service Division.

In San Bernardino County, new foster family licenses dropped from the usual 25 or 30 to 19, said Norm Dollar, deputy director for foster family recruiting.

"There is a downturn. I think it's fair to speculate that people are making difficult economic decisions," Dollar said.

The cost of raising a child in California is more than $700 per month, said Regina Deihl, of Legal Advocates for Permanent Parenting in San Mateo. The group filed a lawsuit against the state over the foster-care reimbursement rate. The case is set for trial in federal district court in November.

Foster care providers got a 5 percent boost in funding in January, the first increase since 2001.

If more families are lost from the county systems, more children will be placed in more expensive or less appropriate settings, such as more costly private foster homes or group homes designed for children whose behavior is so out of control that foster parents can't handle them, Deihl said.

At the very least, it means fewer extras for children who already have done without, she said.

Operating a foster care system on the cheap hurts children and costs more later

Child support: Youth-welfare advocates want more pay for foster parents
Rolland, David. San Diego CityBEAT.

Bob Fellmeth punctuates each word by rapping on the table with a clinched fist, as if hoping the sound or the vibration will jar loose some common sense.

“Eighty percent of non-kin adoptions are really coming from family foster care,” he pounds. “That’s why you want to put every kid in family foster care that you possibly can.”

Fellmeth, executive director of the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego, talks with passion, speed and authority on the subject of foster care. His Children’s Advocacy Institute, an offshoot of the center, has sued the directors of the state Department of Social Services and its Children and Family Services Division, alleging that the state’s meager reimbursements to foster parents violate the federal Child Welfare Act.

But to Fellmeth’s way of thinking, the low payments are simply the cause of a larger problem. By operating a foster-care system on the cheap, the state is pushing foster families out of the business of caring for abused or neglected children. His goal is to draw more families into the fold, which, he says, would better the chances of placing kids closer to their parents, siblings, schools and friends, decrease the number of children in group homes and increase the chances that more troubled kids will be adopted into healthy family environments.

Mary Butters is one of those foster parents who can’t keep afford to keep it up. The Oceanside grandmother has cared for 35 foster children during the past nine years, but she plans to get out within the next month. It’s just too expensive, she says. Butters currently has three children in her care—a 2-year-old, an 8-month-old and a 22-month-old who suffers from, among other maladies, spina bifida, a developmental birth defect that results in a malformed spinal cord—and she receives $446 from the state (through the county) per month for each of them. She reckons that she spends about $600 out of her own pocket each month to raise the children. The state pays for healthcare.

She’d continue if the payments were increased. “I like it. I really enjoy doing it. I really love the kids and everything, but I just can’t afford it anymore,” she says. “I can’t afford to support other people’s kids.”

Butters used to run a day-care business, and while she doesn’t find that as personally fulfilling as being a foster parent, she’s going to return to that line of work. Running day care, she has nights and weekends free and can make $160 a week per child. But, Butters says, “it’s not what I enjoy. I’d rather do foster care. When you do foster care, the kids are almost like your own. Day care’s not as enjoyable.”

As soon as she completes her sentence, the sound of a suddenly crying child can be heard in the background. She chuckles as she explains that her 3-year-old grandson, the man of the house, has just admonished one of the other kids not to tug on the curtains, prompting the sudden wail.

The concern about the low reimbursement rates is just part of a larger effort to reform the state’s foster system, which oversees care for roughly 80,000 children who’ve been, at least temporarily, removed from their homes and, for whatever reason, can’t be placed in the care of relatives.

A Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care later this month will present final recommendations for reform to the California Judicial Council, the policymaking body for the state’s court system. On Friday, Aug. 8, state Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Assembly member Jim Beall Jr. will hold a hearing in Los Angeles on “Fixing Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions.” Bass, long passionate about foster-care issues, did not respond to CityBeat’s request for an interview.

For Fellmeth and Christina Riehl, a staff attorney with the Children’s Advocacy Institute who’s also researching issues related to the deaths of abused and neglected children, the solution starts with money. Every time a foster parent like Mary Butters leaves the system, they say, it increases the possibility that a child will have to be placed in a group home, which child-welfare advocates say greatly lowers chances for success in adulthood.

A 2007 Children’s Advocacy Institute report called “They Deserve a Family” cites a study done by researchers at the University of Colorado at Denver that found that adults who spent time in group homes as adolescents are less accomplished educationally and vocationally than their counterparts who were placed in foster homes and report lower levels of happiness and self-esteem. Advocates attribute that to group homes’ inherent lack of family-style attachment.

It follows, then, that kids placed in group homes have a greater chance of living in poverty, ending up on the government dole and landing in prison, Riehl says, noting the state’s long-term socioeconomic interest in making sure there are enough foster families to go around.

But she and Fellmeth say there can be a quicker return on investing in higher monthly payments to foster parents.

Raising the payments by 40 percent, Fellmeth and Riehl say, would cost an additional $24 million per year, and since the federal government pays for half, that’s just a $12-million increase, which they argue is a drop in the bucket considering the state’s budget is $100 billion.

They calculate that the state would get that $12 million back if it were able to move 600 kids from group homes to foster homes—assuming there are that many in group homes who don’t require the sort of intensive social work for which such facilities were designed. Whereas the monthly cost of family foster homes is measured in the hundreds of dollars, the monthly cost of group-home placement is measured in the thousands. A spokesperson for the state’s Department of Social Services told CityBeat that the average monthly payment per kid in a group home is $5,490.

The state just isn’t being smart, Fellmeth says. “It’s like a math quiz that they’re flunking. It’s not even an algebra quiz. It’s third-grade level.”

CAI’s lawsuit, then, is a means to a much-coveted end. The suit says that federal law requires states that collect federal foster-care funds to cover the cost of food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, personal incidentals, liability insurance and travel for visitation with birth parents.

“California applied for and willingly accepts this federal funding, but does not cover the costs incurred by foster parents as required by federal law,” the suit alleges. “Even as costs to feed, cloth, house, and transport foster children have risen every year, California’s foster care payment rates have not kept pace.”

After a 5-percent increase that took effect on Jan. 1, the state now pays foster families between $446 and $627 per month, depending on the child’s age. State law requires the reimbursement rates to rise according to increases in the California Necessities Index (CNI)—but that’s “subject to the availability of funds,” state law says. The lawsuit charges that even though the CNI rose 24.9 percent between 2001 and 2007, the state did not adjust the foster-care rates during that time. Between 1989 and 2001, the rates were increased twice—a 12-percent bump in 1990 and a 6-percent hike in 1996.

The lawsuit goes on to note that the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that, nationwide, a family earning between $43,400 and $73,100 per year, spends an average of $962.64 per month raising a single child. A study by the University of Maryland School of Social Work recommends raising California’s rates to $685 for a 2-year-old, $785 for a 9-year-old and $861 for a 16-year-old.

“We have good evidence,” Fellmeth says. “We’ve established that the state has no idea what the costs are. They don’t care.”

A spokesperson from the state Attorney General’s office referred CityBeat to the Department of Social Services for comment and, just before press time, e-mailed a copy of the state’s legal response, which essentially denies the plaintiffs’ substantive charges. A spokesperson for DSS said his office’s policy is to withhold comment on matters involving litigation.

As concerned as Fellmeth is about kids while they’re in foster care, he’s equally mindful of the before and after.

“Nobody ever talks about prevention,” he says. “Nobody ever talks about parenting education. Nobody ever talks about unwed births,” which correlate strongly to the demand for foster care, he says, particularly in the African-American community. “Then you’ve got methamphetamine, which hits hard and is even a bigger cause of poverty,” he adds. “It destroys maternal / paternal instinct. Probably 60 to 70 percent of the cases we see in our clinic are methamphetamine-connected. It’s enormous.”

After foster care, when kids “age out” of the system, they’re pretty much cast adrift, and too many become homeless. CAI proposes that the state set up a “transition guardian” program. Under it, the state would give each foster kid roughly $50,000 to live on for five years while receiving vocational training or higher education. The money would be distributed monthly through a court-approved guardian, and each recipient would be required to check in with a judge, preferably one who’s been overseeing a youth’s care since the first custody hearing, every six months.

“If you believe in family values, these are your children. Literally. Legally, these are your children. This is not welfare to someone else’s kids,” Fellmeth says. “You’ve been paying for them already. You’ve raised them. These are your courts. This is your state. Now, are you going to follow through? Are you going to be a good, decent parent and follow through like other parents do? Or are you going to be a bad parent? That’s the proposition.”

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When money is tight, kids should come first

Our View: Foster care needs crucial
Cuts are going to be made, but we must demand that foster children are first in the process.

Merced Sun-Star, Aug. 6, 2008.

"If I have just one can of beans in the pantry, my kids are going to eat."

Ed Howard, a children's advocate who works with the University of San Diego School of Law, puts California's budget priorities in a simple way that reflects the thinking of all responsible parents. When money's tight at home, the kids come first.

And so it should be when we set priorities for spending our money in the lean, mean years -- like this one. Bluntly, adults are big people who can take care of themselves. Even children with parents have someone who will sacrifice for them.

But the neediest of the needy are the state's 77,000 foster children, who have no one but us to look out for their well-being. They don't have a union; they cannot vote; there are no prime-time commercials on TV pressuring legislators not to cut their funding.

When children are so mistreated that they must be removed from their homes and placed in foster care, it is us, the residents of California, who become their parents.

Morally, we cannot ignore their cries when they are being neglected, assaulted, exploited or abused by their parents. We must investigate their cases, help their parents to step up. If their folks will not or cannot do so, we must find loving foster care and then assume responsibility for food, clothing, shelter, health care and education.

Just in Merced County, there are 635 foster children who have been placed with families.

It is well documented that foster children often bear the scars of early maltreatment for a lifetime. They are more likely to suffer poor health; to experience relationship problems; to engage in alcohol and drug abuse, become pregnant as teens; to become juvenile delinquents, adult criminals and have abusive or violent behavior.

If we don't want to act out of compassion, look at pure numbers: We pay for those problems later. In the United States, Prevent Child Abuse America puts total annual costs of child abuse and neglect at more than $103.7 billion.

We are fortunate that awareness in the Legislature is rising; Assembly Speaker Karen Bass has been a tireless educator and advocate for foster children.

We're all tired of the steady parade of people yelling at the Legislature: Don't cut me! Not me! Not us! Through all the deal making, we must demand that the Legislature put foster children first.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

La Cuna recruits Latino foster parents

Latino children in foster care need Latino foster parents
Sáinz, Pablo Jaime. La Prensa San Diego, Aug. 1, 2008.

When he was chief of the San Diego Police Department, David Bejarano used to notice that many of the Latino criminals he helped put behind bars had one thing in common: They had been part of the foster care system.

That’s one of the reasons why today he’s president of the board of directors of La Cuna, Inc., a non-profit, independent foster family agency that helps place Latino children in stable homes with loving, caring Latino families.

“The statistics are against our Latino children in foster care,” said Bejarano, who, after retiring a few years ago, now owns a private security company. “If there are no Latino foster parents to take care of those children in those critical early years, those children will end up as criminals.”

In the following weeks La Cuna will have information sessions in English and in Spanish for people interested in becoming foster parents for Latino babies. The dates and places are the following,

· Saturday, August 9, 10:00 a.m. in English and 11:00 a.m. in Spanish.
Encinitas Community Library; 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas, CA 92024

· Wednesday, August 13, 5:30 p.m. in English and 6:30 p.m. in Spanish.
Otay Mesa Public Library; 3003 Coronado Ave., San Diego, CA 92154

· Saturday, August 16, 10 a.m. in English and 11 a.m. in Spanish.
Weingart Library in City Heights; 3795 Fairmount Ave., San Diego , CA 9210

In almost three years and a half since it received its licensure, La Cuna has been able to secure a stable, safe place for some 66 Latino children that are part of the County of San Diego’s foster care system.

Those 66 children are equal to 66 human beings that will grow up to become good members of our society, said Rachel Humphreys, La Cuna executive director.

Humphreys founded La Cuna in 2003, and together with a group of concerned individuals, began working on the licensing requirement to become a foster family agency.

La Cuna, which means “the cradle,” in Spanish, was established to address the shortage of quality foster homes serving Latino babies and toddlers.

Its mission is “to develop programs that allow foster infants to grow up healthy and happy, and to evaluate the results and create best practices that will improve the lives of Hispanic foster infants throughout California.”

Humphreys said that Latino children face critical conditions in San Diego County’s foster care system.

“Right now we’re in desperate need for Latino foster parents for Latino babies. Latino babies are the silent crisis in foster care,” she said. “The biggest need for foster care is coming out of homes with Latino, monolingual families. We see a lot of domestic violence, poverty, abuse, home-lessness.”

La Cuna is not an adoption agency. Each child placed with a La Cuna family has a reunification plan with his or her biological parents. Unless it puts the child at risk, agency staff strongly support that plan. The social workers coach each foster parent on ways to support the potential reunification process.

La Cuna is always recruiting Latinos for foster parents to provide safe, stable, and loving homes to Latino foster infants and toddlers. The requirements are not as tough as many people think, Humphreys said.

“We need to find quality families, of one, couples, grandparents, they don’t have to be wealthy, they just need a lot of ganas to take care of a child. We need parents that are committed.”

La Cuna has developed a foster parent training program to address the cultural and linguistic needs of Latino babies.

Humphreys said that La Cuna’s success rate, which stands for placing children in stable homes, is at 96 percent.

“One person can make a big difference in the lives of these Latino children,” Bejarano said.

Humphreys has a message for those Latino families that have been exploring the idea of fostering Latino children:

“At the end of day, there’s no better compliment than the gift of a little child saying to you, ‘Thank you. I love you.’ Here in the county we have hundreds of Latino children who are healthy and precious and who are willing to put their trust in you. Remember, they’re waiting for you.”

For more information on La Cuna and its programs, call (619) 521-9900 or visit
La Cuna is located at 3180 University Ave., Suite 260, in San Diego.

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UCR Guardian Scholars should exist in EVERY state, not just a few

UCR to Aid Former Foster Youth
Aug. 21 fund-raiser will help launch the Guardian Scholars program this fall
Miller, Bettye. Aug. 1, 2008.

RIVERSIDE - Youth who have aged out of the foster-care system face numerous obstacles to earning a college degree, not the least of which are the lack of a family support system and the need for year-round housing.

UC Riverside is hoping to ease the transition for qualifying students with the launch this fall of UCR Guardian Scholars, a nationwide program that provides scholarships, life coaching, mentors, housing and personalized attention to emancipated youth.

"These kids have no safety net, and they have disproportionate needs," said Tuppett Yates, assistant professor of psychology who is leading the UC Riverside effort.

UCR Guardian Scholars will host a fund-raiser on Thursday, Aug. 21, from 6 to 9 p.m. on campus at The Barn. Drinks and food will be available for purchase, and the cover band Crash Dance will perform. Admission is free, although donations are appreciated, Yates said.

The program needs to raise at least $20,000 the first year to cover the cost of summer housing, scholarships, books, food and emergencies, said Jan Opdyke, executive director of scholarships and alumni reunions. An anonymous donor has committed to a challenge gift of $10,000 to launch the program, she said.

"This is a most generous gift in support of these students," Opdyke said. "Every dollar given to Guardian Scholars will be matched by this donor, dollar for dollar."

Among the 3,800 freshmen entering UCR this fall are 55 students who have identified themselves as having a history of foster care, Yates said. Not all are eligible for UCR Guardian Scholars, which specifically targets youth who are emancipating from the system and have little social, emotional or material support.

About 70 percent of foster youth say they want a college education, but only 10 percent enroll, and only 1 percent earn a degree, Yates said. Nationally, about 70 percent of students who participate in the Guardian Scholars program graduate in four years.

Most foster youth in the Inland area don't know that attending UCR is an option, Yates said. "It should be," she said. "A lot of these kids are ready, they’re talented and they’re strong."

The psychology professor, who studies risk and resilience among high-risk youth, said UCR Guardian Scholars will serve a total of about 40 students, starting with about four students this fall.

"These are kids with fragmented histories who don't need a fragmented education," Yates said. "UCR Guardian Scholars will offer them a comprehensive and cohesive educational experience to help them reach their potential."

In California, about two-thirds of youth leaving foster care do so without a place to live. Studies show that foster youth with multiple placements are five to 10 times more likely to become involved with the juvenile justice system than youth in the general population, Yates said. One-fourth of former foster youth will be incarcerated within the first two years after aging out of the system, she said.

Guardian Scholars started in 1998 at California State University, Fullerton and operates at more than 20 universities in California, Washington, Indiana, Colorado and Massachusetts.

More than 40 faculty and staff are involved in developing the UCR program, with key leadership positions held by Yates; Audrey Pusey, assistant director for residence life; Katina Napper, director of academic personnel; Louise Jones, Cal Grant coordinator; and Cynthia Moon, a graduate student in psychology who is a head resident in a campus residence hall.

For more information contact Yates at (951) 827-4991 or To make a contribution, make checks payable to UC Foundation, GS Foster Youth Fund, and send them to Jan Opdyke at 1150 University Ave., 110A Highlander Hall, Riverside, CA 92521, or contact her at, (951) 827-5676.

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