Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Foster care alumna advocates for extending foster care until age 21

Opinion by Jim Beall
Special to the Mercury News, Dec. 16, 2008.

No caring parent would banish their son or daughter from their home and cut off all relations just because that child became 18 years old. But for many youths who "age out'' of California's foster care system that's exactly what happens.

Take the case of Vanessa Payne of San Jose, who shared her story of all that could go wrong for a youth leaving the system.

After earning her general education degree, Payne was forced out of her group home with her belongings stuffed in a plastic garbage bag. Alone and with no money, no family or support, she became involved with a drug-dealing sugar daddy, a relationship that ended with a narcotics conviction and jail time. By 19, she was an expectant single mother.

But she managed to turn her life around with guidance. Now 25, Payne graduates this month from San Jose State University with a dual major in psychology and behavioral science. She is employed and lives in an apartment with her 5-year-old son.

For every Vanessa Payne who defied the odds there are thousands of others whose lives are consigned to cells, courtrooms or minimum-wage jobs simply because they had no support in making that precarious transition from foster care to adulthood.

"As a foster youth, we need to know we are loved and supported,'' Payne said. "When we are kicked out at 18, we pretty much lose faith in adults; we lose faith in relationships and connections, and that leaves us to our own devices to survive. I really feel that if the state is able to extend foster care to 21, I strongly believe you'd see more youth going to college and being employed. I wish those services had been provided to me. It would have saved me a lot of heartache.''

Today, California has been presented with an opportunity to fundamentally change foster care. In October, Congress passed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, providing $3 billion to help pay for foster care to age 21.

I have introduced legislation, Assembly Bill 12, to make California's foster care system eligible for those federal dollars by extending state foster care benefits to 21, beginning Oct. 1, 2010. With this subsidy from Washington, we can nurture the education and careers of youths who were removed from their abusive and derelict parents.

It is unrealistic to believe these fledglings, suddenly jettisoned out of the system, are prepared to tackle the harsh realities of life alone.

Consider this: About 4,500 of California's 74,000 foster care children are "aged out'' annually. One in four will be jailed within two years of emancipation; 20 percent become homeless. More than half are high school dropouts; only 3 percent get a college degree. Almost half are unemployed at age 21.

The evidence is clear: A strong bridge of support to 21 not only creates responsible, contributing citizens but will save taxpayers millions in court, prison, and human and social costs.

I am not alone on this issue. Speaker Karen Bass and 11 more legislators have signed onto AB 12.

I also believe every father and mother in California would back this bill, too, for the simple reason they would not want any foster child to be forsaken and forgotten merely because they celebrated their 18th birthday.

-Jim Beall, a Democrat, represents the 24th Assembly District in San Jose. He wrote this article for the Mercury News

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Money Makeover for Kinship Care Provider

Second set of children presents second set of challenges: North Hills woman will have difficulty retiring with modest savings and four adopted kids to provide for
Marsh, Ann. LA Times, Dec. 21, 2008.

Patricia Kimball takes the measure of her life once a month when issues of Parenting and AARP magazines drop simultaneously through the front-door mail slot of her North Hills home.

"I never thought I'd end up with four small kids at this age," said the 65-year-old special education teacher and mother of three adult sons.

The disparate magazines mirror the joy she has with four adopted children, ages 3 to 7, and her concern that they'll be stretching her financial resources, including state funds she receives for taking care of the special-needs children.

Kimball had wanted to retire in a few years, even though she has saved only $69,000. But now she'll have to work a decade longer to pay for the children's upbringing and for her retirement, said financial planner Donald Hance, president of Glenmore Financial in Pacific Palisades.

"Having those kids is a fabulous thing. God bless you," Hance told her, while also cautioning that she needs to save more money. "You don't have the cash reserves to carry you through rough times."

Pixie-small, with a dazzling smile, spiky gray hair and an eyebrow ring, Kimball looks like a hippie version of a fairy godmother. But she doesn't have a magic wand to help her do more for her children.

She earns $85,000 a year at the Glendale Unified School District and receives $32,880 from the state for the children's care. She doesn't live extravagantly, and her only debt is $157,000 left on the mortgage on her home.

But fate has left her without a fortune or much of a nest egg. That she has any savings, much less a home, is more a testament to her perseverance since her husband died from a stroke 22 years ago. At the time, their sons were 7, 12 and 16; she was a housewife and wasn't aware of the family's financial situation.

After her husband's death, she found out that their house had gone into foreclosure and that he had allowed an $8,000 federal tax debt to balloon to $50,000 over eight years.

She sold the home before the bank took it over and used the proceeds to pay a negotiated settlement with the Internal Revenue Service. Nevertheless, she went into bankruptcy, which ruined her credit, and spent eight years in a hodgepodge of jobs, including aerobics leader and teacher at a preschool for autistic children.

In the process, Kimball repaired her credit and took classes to improve her job prospects. At 51, she earned her credentials to teach special education.

Without credit cards for years, Kimball used cash for everything, including her 2002 Honda Odyssey van. And she was able to dip into savings last year to give her son Damon, now 30, a $25,000 loan, which he plans to start repaying soon. Only for her North Hills home, which she bought in 1994, did she need to borrow money.

"I understand where my limits are," she said.

Her expertise in special education gave her a window into the minds of children with special needs, and she decided to adopt a baby girl who might otherwise have spent her formative years in institutions. After three sons, she was ready for a daughter.

But in 2001, a foster-care agency offered her a baby boy, one she couldn't resist. A year later, the baby girl came into the home. The girl's mother then had two more children that foster care quickly sent to Kimball.

"I am grateful to God that she didn't have another" child, Kimball said. Damon has developed a bond with the adopted children and has agreed to be their guardian should anything happen to his mother.

With such family matters sorted out, a debt-free Kimball now faces the challenge of staying that way. If she stops working at 71, Hance figures, she would receive a little more than $4,500 a month from her teacher's pension. However, if she waits five more years, that amount increases to nearly $5,400.

To Kimball, a monthly bump of $850 didn't sound like enough to delay retiring. "I'm getting tired," she told Hance. "I feel like taking a vacation."

But five more years, Hance said, would mean not only an increase in her pension income, but also five more years of income at her top salary.

"She might need that for her living expenses," Hance said. "With raises, that's probably half a million [dollars] she'd be forgoing over those five years."

Kimball acquiesced: "Oh, I hadn't thought of that."

Hance suggested several steps she should take.

He asked her to check with the Social Security Administration to see if she was eligible for survivor payments from her husband's benefits now that she is of retirement age. In a quick call, she learned she was entitled to about $1,000 a month.

Not only will that money increase Kimball's own savings, it will help her save more for her children's college educations. That's important, Hance said, because a retirement fund and four tax-free college savings plans she set up several years ago won't bring in the funds that a brokerage salesman had promised.

The salesman, she said, told her that saving $30 a month for each child would give them about $20,000 each by the time they entered college. But Hance said the most each account would be worth was $6,000, assuming a 4% return to reflect current market conditions. To get close to her goal, she would have to put $100 a month into each account, and that would grow to about $17,000 for college expenses.

He also noted that the salesman had put 100% of her children's savings and 70% of her own into stocks, which means the value of her holdings has plunged recently. She should have no more than 40% of her assets in equities at her age, Hance said, and the balance in fixed income.

Hance also suggested that Kimball make sure she was getting the maximum state support for her children. She said she recently applied for an increase in her oldest son's benefit from $450 to $751 a month because he had developed more problems than were known when he was a baby.

For Damon's debt, Hance said Kimball should create a promissory note detailing the terms of the loan, including a reasonable interest rate, and have her son sign it. Damon's eventual inheritance should be decreased by any unpaid balance.

Because Damon agreed to be the legal guardian of her adopted children, Kimball listed him as the sole beneficiary on her $250,000 term-life insurance policy.

However, Hance said each of her seven children should be beneficiaries, sharing equally. That's the only way, he said, to ensure funds actually go to each child. Otherwise, there is no legal mechanism to ensure one child uses the money for the others.

"It's funny, when people get money, what they do," the planner said.

Given Kimball's discipline with money, Hance suggested she apply for a credit card to accumulate points she can use for airplane tickets and other travel expenses. Kimball brightened at the idea. Recently, another son announced that he was getting married in Virginia, and she wondered how she was going to pay for airfare for the younger children.

"The idea of getting airline miles is critical," she said. "Now we're actually thinking about traveling because everyone is toilet trained."

Do you need a money makeover? Each month, the Sunday Business section gives readers a chance to have their financial situations sized up by professional advisors at no charge. To be considered, send an e-mail to makeover@ latimes.com. Include a brief description of your financial goals and a daytime phone number. Information you send us will be shared with others.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Let's keep moving forward with California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care

Summit aims to improve foster care outcomes Ukiah Daily Journal, Dec. 10, 2008.

Ukiah,CA - A team comprised of Mendocino County people and teams from more than 50 counties convene in San Francisco today on the subject of foster children.

Today's summit is in regard to implementing the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care's recommendations to reform the state's juvenile dependency court system and improve outcomes for foster children in California, a Superior Court of California, Mendocino Count, report stated Monday.

According to the report, teams will be looking at areas of local concern and also creating the means to enact change at the local level.

A portion of the report names better sharing of information among entities that serve families as a discussion topic among county teams. Other points include, for example, raising public awareness for foster care issues and sharing successful strategies.

The Blue Ribbon Commission is a panel appointed by the Chief Justice of California to make recommendations for improving safety, permanency, well-being and fairness outcomes for children and families.

On Aug. 15, the Judicial Council of California accepted recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission.

Members of Mendocino County's team include: Judge Cindee Mayfield, Sheryn Hildebrand of CASA, Rebecca Wilson of HHSA CFSOC, Julie Spoljaric, attorney and Sandra Applegate of Office of County Counsel.

More information on the Blue Ribbon Commission can be seen online at: www.courtinfo.ca.gov/blueribbon


California level of foster parent compensation violates federal law

Judge: Calif. Foster Care Reimbursement Violates Federal Law
KCBS, Dec. 9, 2008.

A federal judge in San Francisco ruled Tuesday that the way California compensates foster parents for child rearing expenses violates the Child Welfare Act.

The money foster parents receive from the state averages about $505 a month per child, a figure the plaintiff’s attorney’s said does not take into account the actual expenses the guardian incurs providing for the child.

“It’s required to make payments to cover the cost of providing certain basic necessities,” said attorney Rick Ballinger, an associate with the law firm Morrison & Foerster. Instead, he said, “the state’s setting rates based on how much money it wants to pay.”

Ballinger argued that foster parents are being overwhelmed the growing costs of food, clothing, and housing. “Families are in the worst position in times like this. A foster parent who’s real income is shrinking right now has nowhere to go,” he said.

The State Department of Social Services oversees 70,000 children in the foster care system, and Ballinger said fewer people were volunteering to serve as foster parents.

It’s unclear when the agency might increase the amounts it pays as a result of the decision. A spokesman for the agency refused to comment.


Christmas gifts for San Fernando Valley foster care children

Givers remember foster children
Doyle, Sue. Los Angeles Daily News, Dec. 7, 2008.

SHERMAN OAKS - Despite a down economy, the spirit of giving was up Sunday as hundreds donated tiny trucks, Barbies and holiday gifts for 3,000 San Fernando Valley foster-care children.

Toys, books and board games were stacked high in a 1936 Ford coupe and a 1957 Ford Thunderbird, parked on Ventura Boulevard at Hazeltine Avenue to attract more passers-by to give to the 10th annual event thrown by the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association in a Ralphs parking lot.

"These gifts are going to foster-care children, and they are the ones who need it most," said Richard Close, president of the homeowners group, adding that the piles of donated presents Sunday seemed higher than ever before.

"These gifts are probably the only ones they will get."

Presents will serve children from the Chatsworth bureau of the Department of Children and Family Services, which oversees 27,000 foster youth in Los Angeles County.

When Adena Schutzman of West Los Angeles learned of the event, she asked the homeowners group which children get overlooked in toy drives. The answer: teens.

So the 22-year-old bought a $25 gift card to a movie theater chain - a present she hopes a teenager will enjoy.

"We gave it some thought," said Schutzman. "We often forget there are 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds in foster care."

Throughout the afternoon, families toted fuzzy teddy bears and craft sets to the toy drive, and then hopped inside the Los Angeles Police Department's Mobile Command Post and slid behind the wheel of a Los Angeles Fire Department engine, parked in the lot to add fun to the day.

"There are a lot more families in a world of hurt this year," said Zev Yaroslavsky. "This year, more than ever, this program is going to be meaningful."

Carrying a pig-tailed doll and a snazzy 1965 model red Corvette in her arms, Myrtle Lou Gray of Sherman Oaks said she picked out toys that do not require batteries.

"Some kids may not have access to buy batteries," said Gray, pointing at her boxes of toys. "I picked one for a girl and one for a boy."

Concerns over possible false accusations and long-term consequences

Child Abuse Central Index offers no way out, even for the innocent: An accusation is enough to land people on California's list of child abusers, but only long legal battles can clear their names.
Williams, Carol J. Los Angeles Times, Dec. 7, 2008.

Accused of child abuse by a vindictive ex-girlfriend 22 years ago, Bakersfield stockbroker Scott Whyte ceased contact with their son for years, fearing that another allegation would land him in prison, before a court cleared him.

Craig and Wendy Humphries went to jail after a rebellious teenage daughter fled to Utah and told police there that her father and stepmother had abused her. While the Valencia couple were locked up in Los Angeles County on charges eventually ruled groundless, their two younger children were placed in foster care.

Esther Boynton, a Beverly Hills lawyer who helped Whyte and the Humphrieses fight to clear their names, had her own hellish experience getting off the state's Child Abuse Central Index, a database containing 819,000 names from which even a judgment of innocence isn't enough to secure removal.

Unlike the better-known database created by Megan's Law, which registers and tracks 63,000 named sex offenders, the child abuse index is neither actively managed by the state nor periodically purged of erroneous or unsubstantiated entries -- despite efforts by the wrongly included to escape its shameful stain.

The California Department of Justice has been ordered in at least three court decisions in recent years to create a standard way to remove from the index the names of those exonerated by courts or social service investigations.

But in response to the latest judgment, a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last month that the Humphrieses' privacy rights had been violated, the Office of the Attorney General plans another appeal in defense of the state's handling of the database.

Whyte, 59, looks back on a life irreparably damaged by the abuser label and the threat of punishment for a crime he didn't commit.

When the mother of his then-4-year-old son made the false allegations against him in 1986 and Kern County authorities put his name in the abuser index, Whyte said, his initial anger "quickly gave way to complete terror."

The mother's report was made during a veritable witch hunt that grew out of child abuse allegations against day-care workers in the county throughout the 1980s.

"The atmosphere was such that if you were accused, you might as well turn yourself in to prison and look to spend the rest of your life there," Whyte recalled.

For months after learning of the report, Whyte so feared his arrest was imminent that he left a blank check and the deed to his house with a relative to post bond for him.

"I just couldn't believe that this could happen to a person in this country, that [authorities] would destroy families with nothing but a phone call," said the father who protected his liberty at the cost of any relationship with his son. "There are not any words strong enough to describe that situation, the shame, the travesty. Somebody ought to be shot."

The Humphrieses, still listed as abusers, "are living every parent's nightmare," the appeals court said. It ruled the state in violation of the 14th Amendment because people in the index aren't given a chance to challenge the allegations against them.

The couple's ordeal began in March 2001, when Craig Humphries' 15-year-old daughter from a previous marriage took their car without permission and drove to Utah, where her mother and stepfather lived. She told them she had been abused since being sent to California nine months earlier, and a Utah emergency room doctor who examined the teen reported to Los Angeles County authorities that she had "non-accidental trauma with extremity contusions."

On the basis of that one phone call, the Humphrieses were arrested, jailed and charged with felony torture. The arresting sheriff's deputy filed a "substantiated" child abuse report that got them entered in the index. Their two younger children were placed in protective custody.

"My clients didn't have any idea where their kids were," said Boynton, who, because the case is still in litigation, has advised the couple against discussing their ordeal with The Times.

The Humphrieses got their children back about 10 days later, and California medical records proved that the daughter's bruises were the result of surgical removal of melanoma.

"The Humphries have taken advantage of every procedure available to them, including the California courts," Judge Jay S. Bybee wrote in the 9th Circuit Court opinion. "They went to the dependency court, which found that the allegations were 'not true' and returned their children to them. They went to the prosecutor, who dropped all the charges against them. They went to the criminal court, which declared them 'factually innocent' and sealed their arrest records. None of this had any effect on their CACI listing."

Wendy Humphries, a teacher, had to hire an attorney to avoid losing her credentials, because employers of people who work with children are required to consult the index. The list can be accessed by educational, child-care, adoption, foster-care and child-welfare agencies throughout the country and is referenced about 400,000 times a year, said Abraham Arredondo, spokesman for the attorney general's office.

Boynton landed in the child abuse database in 1990 after accidentally splashing her 17-year-old daughter with hot coffee. She learned three years later, when applying to volunteer as a reading tutor, that the Los Angeles Police Department had reported her to the state based on her expressions of remorse to emergency room personnel for the burn on her daughter's shoulder.

It took two years and much expensive litigation to get their names expunged from the index, and Boynton remains suspicious that distorted records of the incident still linger elsewhere.

The state agreed to make individual changes in its listing, notification and challenge practices in Whyte and Boynton's cases and in a negotiated settlement with Amelia Gomez, a Los Angeles woman denied custody of her grandchildren because of index errors.

"We have an order requiring them to rewrite the regulations. As far as we know, they haven't done anything to comply with it," David Greene, a lawyer with the First Amendment Project in Oakland, said of the state court ruling a year ago that the index violated constitutional privacy guarantees.

Among the changes the state agreed to were the rights of named individuals to see their government dossiers, to challenge inaccuracies and to have their versions appended to the records.

"To the extent you want this index to serve some function, to have usefulness, it has to be accurate," Greene said.

The law now requires that anyone added to the abuser index be notified, but the lawyers say decades of secrecy in compiling and maintaining the list created in 1965 probably means many on it are unaware of their inclusion and the need to pursue removal.

Those listed can now demand a hearing among officials of the reporting agency, whether a county child protective services office or law enforcement.

But the standard of proof of wrongdoing remains so low and the pressure to continue identifying any potential abuser so high that the hearings are often "almost worthless," said Peter Sheehan, a lawyer with the Social Justice Law Project in the Bay Area.

Though the intent of the index was noble in seeking to protect children, Sheehan said, its value and reliability are compromised by its flaws.

A halfhearted and piecemeal effort a few years ago to update the index showed significant error rates -- more than 20% in some counties -- among the few reporting agencies that carried out the reviews, Sheehan said. The 9th Circuit Court ruling in Humphries vs. County of Los Angeles cited a 2004 review of listings from San Diego County that suggested as many as half were erroneous.

Sheehan called the state's request for 9th Circuit rehearing of the Humphries ruling and the possibility of an eventual appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court "the scary part," in light of the high court's conservative majority and its tendency to rule against claims of government interference with privacy rights.

"What happened to the Humphries could happen again today," said Boynton, noting the state's resistance to reforming its administration of the index. "Ultimately there will be critical mass, and the government will have to fix the system."


If you're going to bail out the banks and automakers, you should bail out the children

Expert calls Tracy torture case a "social services plane wreck"
Benca, Jeanine. San Jose Mercury News, Dec. 7, 2008.

Studies show as many as 15 percent of children in wealthy nations are physically abused by guardians each year, but the alleged torture of a boy who stumbled into a Tracy fitness club battered, half-starved and in chains last week stands out for its cruelty, a leading child abuse expert says.

Cases that severe are "not a very common thing." But they continuously pop up, said Carole Jenny, a pediatrics professor at Brown University's medical school.

Underfunding and a lack of resources for child protective services is a huge problem, said Jenny, who called what authorities say happened to the boy known as "Kyle R." a "social services plane wreck."

It is to everyone's benefit to look after abused children, since a high percentage end up in prisons and mental health facilities, she said.

She recalled treating a boy who had been locked in a box for several years. Of the 1,500 or so abuse cases she sees annually, Jenny estimates two or three include "extreme torture and deprivation."

The circumstances of intense abuse vary and cannot be boiled down to a single cause, she said, though researchers say there are common risk factors among abusers. They include mental illness, a history of abuse and dysfunction in their own childhood, stress, lack of education, substance abuse, poverty and an absence of social support.

Child abuse rates also are tied to economic downturn, as evidenced by increased incidents reported nationwide.

In the case of the boy in a box, "his (guardian) was psychotic and not thinking clearly," Jenny said. "I've seen cases where children have been starved to death, I've seen cases where kids almost died. I saw one case where a 7-year-old girl was kept in a house trailer and the neighbors didn't even know she existed. She was taking care of her disabled mother and her father was also prostituting her."

According to a study published Tuesday in the British medical journal The Lancet, abuse is more common in the United States, Canada and other rich countries than previously thought. But, research shows, as few as one in 10 cases are taken up by child protective agencies.

One reason is a lack of faith in the public welfare system by doctors and others who might suspect abuse but do not report it because they fear foster care would be worse for the child, said Jenny, who wrote a commentary on the study.

"They don't trust social services. And they think they're really going to lose the relationship with the family if they report," she said.

On paper, the story of Tracy's Kyle R. reads like the script for a bad horror movie.

The 16-year-old who appeared seemingly out of nowhere Monday at In-Shape City in Tracy was almost unrecognizable as a teenage boy. Half-naked, shrunken and stunted from starvation to the size of a small child, barely verbal, covered in severe cuts, burns, feces and urine, with a thick chain shackled to his bloody ankle, his appearance was so disturbing that gym workers thought they were targets of a sick prank.

When the reality became clear, some staff members went to another room to weep, out of sight of the boy who crawled into a fetal position under a desk.

The charges leveled against the three adults arrested in connection with the abuse are equally surreal.

Over 18 months, authorities say, Caren Ramirez, Kyle's guardian, and her two housemates, husband and wife Michael Schumacher and Kelly Layne Lau, turned Kyle into a torture object.

In a jailhouse interview last week, Lau said the boy was denied food and kept chained to the coffee table while the family ate dinner and led their daily lives. Authorities say the trio's weapons of choice included belts, knives and an aluminum bat heated in a fireplace, and, they say, Kyle was force-fed pills and alcohol.

When he appeared at In-Shape City, workers say he was covered in soot. A search warrant released Friday said he had been chained to and sleeping in a fireplace.

Authorities say the abuse took place in the presence of Schumacher's and Lau's four young children — one of whom is an aspiring ballerina, according to Lau's MySpace Web site — and within earshot of neighbors who say they attended barbecues at the house.

The case has caused public outrage and raised questions on what causes some to commit atrocities against children. Also baffling is the allegation that Kyle was singled out in a house of five children — police reports indicate Lau and Schumacher's four children, who are in protective custody, appear relatively unharmed — and how the suspected abuse could go unreported for so long.

Empathy — the ability to care about and feel pain for others — is believed to develop in early childhood, but it can be short-circuited by childhood trauma, experts say.

People who were devalued and severely abused are more likely to become abusers as adults, though the presence of at least one positive adult relationship in early childhood has been shown to make a difference in how abuse victims turn out.

Little is known about the backgrounds of the three accused of abusing Kyle, though Lau said during an interview that she was physically abused by her previous husband.

One thing is clear: Kyle's case is not an isolated incident.

The Tracy case bares similarities to a recent East Bay tragedy — that of 15-year-old Jazzmin Davis of Antioch. On Sept. 2, the girl was found dead, her naked, broken body weighing less than 80 pounds, in a bedroom of the home she shared with Shemeeka Davis, her aunt and foster mother.

Davis pleaded not guilty in September to murder in Jazzmin's death and awaits trial for the suspected abuse and torture of the girl and her twin brother. An autopsy found Jazzmin died of starvation compounded by whippings and burns from hot irons.

In both cases, there were serious breakdowns in the government system responsible for protecting children.

In Jazzmin's case, child welfare agents failed to spot signs of abuse during routine visits to her home, while records show Kyle went missing from the system for more than a year.

By age 12, Kyle was living with Ramirez after having been removed from the care of his father, who had abused him, police said. Kyle's mother reportedly gave Ramirez custody before she died.

Kyle and Ramirez's stepson, Austin, were removed from Ramirez's Citrus Heights home and placed in foster care after police were called to the home at least twice, in 2005 and 2006. The second time, it was Ramirez's daughter, 21-year-old Cristina Sanchez, who reported that her mother had beaten Kyle. When police arrived, they found the boy had severe bruises on his buttocks, legs and arms. He said Ramirez beat him with martial-arts sticks, broomsticks and clothes hangers.

In April 2007, Ramirez was charged with four felony counts of child abuse. She plead no contest to one charge, the others were dismissed.

A month later, Kyle went missing from his Sacramento foster home. By July 2007, he was living with Ramirez in Lau's and Schumacher's home, though how he ended up with Ramirez again is unknown. Lau has said in interviews that her family knew Ramirez through "a friend of a friend."

Any abuse he suffered in the past 18 months might have been prevented if authorities had tracked him down after he ran away. But Luis Villa, a division manager for Sacramento County Child Protective Services, said the volume of cases and lack of resources make it difficult for CPS workers to search for runaway foster children.

"There is very little effort put into it because there is very little information out there," said Bob Wilson, executive director of Sacramento Child Advocate Inc. The nonprofit group advocates for abused and neglected foster children.

"Usually, social workers make their best effort but become overwhelmed with what they have to deal with in regard to other cases. And law enforcement doesn't actively pursue them unless they get a hit on a traffic stop or arrest," he said.

Wilson said that when a foster child disappears, he or she typically doesn't have loved ones posting signs, alerting the media or organizing searches like the families of other children would.

"They don't have a voice or safety net out there for them," Wilson said. "Many end up on streets in child prostitution and exploited in other fashions."

"At the same time the need (for social services) is increasing, the resources are decreasing," Jenny said of the current economic climate. "If you're going to bail out the banks and automakers, you should bail out the children."

Sacramento Child Advocates has set up a bank account for Kyle R. The group accepts only cash donations to be used for his care. Sacramento Child Advocates Inc. is the advocate and voice for abused children in the foster care system.

To donate by e-mail, visit www.sacchildadv.org, click on the Tracy Youth fund on the left side of the page. Checks may be sent to SCA FBO Tracy Youth Fund, 8745 Folsom Blvd. Suite 150, Sacramento, CA 95826.

Donations are also being accepted at the In-Shape City Sports Club, where the boy first went for help. The club is at 101 S. Tracy Blvd., Tracy, CA 95376.


Jeremiah's Promise

Youth 'aged out' of foster care get a helping hand at Sunnyvale transitional home
Kraatz, Cody. Sunnyvale Sun, Dec. 3, 2008.

The instability of Marina Galan's youth began with her shuttling between her mother and father's home. It was replaced when she entered foster care at age 3 by the repeated shocks and insecurity of shuttling between foster homes.

A foster father and uncle abused her. She lived with her aunt in Modesto. These were only the earliest of many more moves.

Galan, now 18, has lived for two months in an otherwise unremarkable house on a quiet southern Sunnyvale cul-de-sac, a group home operated by the faith-based nonprofit Jeremiah's Promise.

The home can accommodate six women ages 18 to 21, each of whom "aged out," or were emancipated from the foster care system at age 18, and the government stopped paying to support them.

Jeremiah's selects them for their resiliency, their readiness for guidance and their sincere desire to better their future, and they stay for a year or two until they're ready to move out on their own.

Between 130 and 150 young people in Santa Clara County and nearly 4,500 in the state age out each year. They are far more likely to be poor, homeless, jobless, incarcerated and out of school than their peers, studies show.

Jeremiah's Promise is one of several local organizations that try to smooth the rough edges of the jarring aging-out process with transitional housing, a life skills program and a supportive environment.

Shifting sands
As with many other foster children, the sands of Galan's life continued to shift as she moved from her aunt's home to group homes in Los Gatos, Fremont, Watsonville and Aptos in the span of about seven years. She learned along the way to stand up for herself, because fights were common.

"I've been really used to this environment since I was 3-years old," says Galan. "When I walk into a house, I try to walk in with confidence. When I meet someone new I meet them with confidence, because I don't want them to underestimate me."

Her brother tracked down her father, a truck driver who remarried and lives with his wife and their children in San Jose, when she was 17 and living in Aptos. The stress shook her up.

"I'm starting to build a relationship with my dad. Since I just met him, it takes time. Nothing happens overnight," she says in an interview at the Jeremiah's Promise house after a November dinner with local adults interested in mentoring the young women.

Galan recalls a "team decision-making" meeting held with key case workers and guardians when she was 17, just after her father had come back into her life. They asked her whether she would rather move in with her mother or her father at that point. Her mother told her at the time that there would be no repercussions either way.

"I said I would like to live with my dad. After I said, it she just basically left. She didn't want anything to do with me," says Galan, who doesn't know where her mother is now. "I started acting out and running away because my mom left me."

She spent a couple of hours in Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall on charges of trespassing after her Aptos group home kicked her out because of her behavior. The Bill Wilson Center's Quetzal House in Santa Clara was her next home, but she continued to run away and was eventually kicked out.

"I was on my own for a month, hanging out with gangs and drug dealers. I realized,`I'm almost 18. What am I going to do? I'm going to be homeless if I keep up this pace,'" she says.

She went to a children's shelter, and eventually a social worker found her a bed at Rebekah Children's Services in Gilroy, where she lived for her last four months in foster care.

"I have nowhere to go," she recalls thinking. She couldn't live with her father because of "complications" with his family, she says. Her mother was gone.

"I was freaking out. I was like,`Dad, I don't know what to do. I don't know where to go,' " she says. "And he said,`Just pray.' "

Weeks before she had to leave Rebekah, she found Jeremiah's Promise. She recalls thinking, "Oh my gosh. This is the place. I want to be here."

The fact that the nonprofit is Christian-focused convinced her that it was the answer to her prayers. Its name is a Biblical reference to Jeremiah 29:11, in which God tells a group of exiles that he has "plans to give you hope and a future."

Familial environment
The small staff and volunteers try to "build a familial environment," says Enza Canicatti, the residence manager or "mother hen," as she puts it.

Kim Golter, CEO and founder of the nonprofit, was a court-appointed child advocate in 2000 when she learned about the challenges faced by aged-out youth.

"You can't just stick them in an apartment and say, 'OK, you've got housing. We've taken care of you,'" says Golter, who moved the program from an older Palo Alto house into the newly purchased Sunnyvale house in January. The young people who age out may be 18 chronologically, but emotionally they are much younger.

"They crave the involvement of each person in their community. That's what causes the transformation," Golter says.

Canicatti faces an uphill battle sometimes in trying to turn the housemates into a household. They watch movies and will spend time together during the holidays.

Sandra Philpott, who oversees a similar house for young men as director of transitional housing at San Jose-based Unity Care Group, says that it requires a balance of nurturing and stepping back that is even more exacting than raising typical teenagers.

Every Thursday night, Canicatti invites someone to the house to give a life skills workshop. Often it tackles topics such as budgeting, resume-building or interviewing — things that a parent might otherwise teach.

Lately, she has been inviting people in the community to tell their life stories, which show that "despite where you come from, you can now make a road for yourself [and] use your pain as a personal passion for life," she says.

Tonight, it's Mimi Moseley, a gregarious blonde director of women's ministries at Valley Church in Cupertino. In a ring of chairs on the living room's hardwood floor, she describes the pain of growing up with alcoholic parents.

She used drugs, struggled with anorexia and was devastated by her father's death from alcoholism and her mother's abrupt gunshot suicide. But after opening herself up to a loving religious community and a good husband, she turned around.

"We have to be in community. We can't do this ourselves," Moseley says before offering the young women an ear anytime they need to talk.

After a silence, resident Leslie Zamora, 19, says, "I think everyone's pain is ... not the same but equal."

"The stuff that people go through, that's what makes you who you are today," adds Galan. Rather than regretting or trying to forget those experiences, she integrates them in very personal poems and into her understanding of the paths life offers.

Ground rules
Like the firm but supportive parents that these young women lack, Jeremiah's Promise has earnest expectations. The curfew is 11 p.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. Chores are divvied up.

They get their privacy, which is extremely important after years of having very little control or personal space. Since two new residents moved in last week, bringing the total to five, most have to share rooms.

"Basically, if you want to stay here, you have to have a job," says Galan, who recently started working in the deli at the nearby Safeway store on Hollenbeck Avenue. "They were really pushing for me to have a job, which is good."

Thirty percent of the residents' earnings are collected as "rent" and deposited into individual savings accounts. By the time they move out, it's enough for a deposit on an apartment or to pay for other expenses. Zamora recently landed a job at Ross after two weeks at the house.

She is cooking chicken flautas in hot oil on the stove, a recipe that she learned from her family. She has an uncle in Redwood City, where she lived in transitional housing until she was kicked out for breaking curfew, and a grandmother in San Mateo.

Her comfort in the kitchen — a sort of home-building catalyst — belies her anxiety before moving into the house.

"You don't know anybody. You've got to get used to them and they've got to get used to your ways," she says, adding, "It's exciting, too because you could end up meeting someone or making a good friend."

Earlier, she and Galan were playfully snapping close-ups together on one of their cell phones in the study, a room with a large conference table, laptops, a combo printer and books about healthy relationships and job hunting.

To learn more about Jeremiah's Promise, visit www.jeremiahspromise.org

I'm sad filled with agony my heart is numb cuz of all the sorrow that fills it.

I sit in a room full of rage I try to find the part of me that"s pleased.
But with all the hurt I have there is no room for the happiness that I need.
I just wonder how I can feel so unloved with everybody beside me!
Why am I so afraid to find the love for me!
Why am I so insecure in my personality!
I don't want to feel the hate inside of me!
I don"t want to be rejected anymore so please HELP me find the joy that I once carried in me!!!!
"” Marina Galan

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Federal help with kinship care costs might help Cali increase foster care until age 21

Foster care system changes are in the works
Melandez, Lyanne. abc7news.com, Dec. 10, 2008.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- California's foster care system is overstressed and under resourced. Today a blue ribbon commission in San Francisco made some recommendations to begin improving the system. At least two major changes are in the works.

When a foster child turns 18, he or she is on their own -- it's called aging out. Between 4,000 to 5,000 children are forced to leave the system each year. With nowhere to turn, some end up homeless or living with friends or relatives.

Joscelynn Carbonell was in foster care.

"Unlike with other kids you could go back to somebody, you have a support system, you have somebody to pick you up when you fall down, they don't have that, they are on one their own, they are America's forgotten children," said Carbonell.

A federal bill would extend foster care to children past the age of 18 up to 21, but first the California legislature must approve it.

Assemblyman Jim Beall of San Jose led a forum in San Francisco to focus on the state's foster care needs and ways to fund them.

If the foster care age is extended to 21, the state and counties would have to pay half of the cost, then the federal government would pick up the remainder. It's a tough sell given our hard economic times.

Frank Mecca is the executive director of the County Welfare Director's Association.

"In the case of foster care they are very well documented, they are scientifically proven so we know that by not investing we'll incur more costs in the long run," said Mecca.

"This is a policy that is in place in a number of large states and it's been proven to reduce adult incarceration and improve post secondary education outcomes," said Amy Lemley from the John Burton Foundation.

There is a way to pay for this additional expense. Today, California pays 100 percent of the cost of taking care of a child by a relative, and that's about to change.

"By opting into the federal program 50 percent of those costs would be paid for by the federal government, saving California $50 to $60 million a year," said Lemley.

The bill, AB12, still must go before a number of committees before it hits the floor of the Assembly.

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Troubled by failure to protect children

The shame of California's foster care system
Neslon, Jennifer. Sacramento Bee, Dec. 14, 2008.

The recent story about the boy who was held for a year against his will in Tracy and physically abused should make our state leaders reflect on the success of our child welfare system and how seriously the courts deal with child abuse.

The facts around this case are horrifying. … (And) just last September, the Bay Area was rattled by the death of a 15-year-old foster child in her aunt's care. …

The maddening fact is that our state leaders would rather worry about global warming and spaying dogs and cats than protecting our children. These children were in the "system." Authorities knew that the boy was being abused. The state's solution? Send him to foster care (although the foster care system had already harmed him – it's no wonder he ran away from that home). We didn't even put his abuser in jail. (And the 15-year-old from the Bay Area) didn't even get the chance to be removed from her abuser's care. … Let's not forget that we, the taxpayers, pay these guardians – family members or not – to "care" for the children we place with them.

Every adult in this state should feel shame about these cases. …

Our state leaders need to find a way to shake up our foster care system and increase the protections for children of unfit parents. We should look at the possibility of creating a system of orphanages where children can be better supervised and protected. The Schwarzenegger administration and legislators should take a fresh look at the academic evidence of the success of orphanages and think about ways to support their growth. Honestly, if our leaders spent as much time trying to help fix the foster care system as they do talking about what kind of light bulbs we're supposed to be using, maybe we'd see some improvements in the lives of California's foster children.