Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fostering Connections Act passed... will states deliver?

Rooftop Foster Kids
At 18, they lose their foster parents and become homeless. A law may help them
Heimpel, Daniel. LA Weekly, March 18, 2009.

The corner of Hollywood and Western is the epicenter of an underground world: a community outside the collective vision of club-hoppers and restaurant-goers rushing by, and one forgotten by public policy. Homeless youth, many cast off at 18 by the foster-care system, root out lives in a dim, moldy labyrinth of “abandos” — abandoned buildings hidden behind storefronts and the busy boulevard.

They “cop a squat” — sit on the hard concrete benches at the Metro station across from City Council President Eric Garcetti’s field office, and climb onto roofs to get above the cops and the sometimes-unsafe world below.

For most foster children, turning 18 means their case will be terminated — although the euphemism long used by the government for what happens to these young adults is “emancipation.”

Social workers and other experts say that, with that sudden loss of any temporary parent they may have known, often comes too much responsibility. A large number of the 1,200 foster youth who “age out” of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) every year can’t cope any more than a teenager suddenly kicked out by parents at 18. The Children’s Law Center says that within two years of losing foster care, half will be unemployed, a quarter will have been imprisoned, and one-fifth will be homeless.

Rico, 21, and Starr, 20, are walking in front of the Starbucks at the northeast corner of Hollywood and Western. Rico is slightly smaller than Starr, who is two months pregnant. A few hundred feet north of Hollywood Boulevard they cut into a parking lot.

“You gotta move kinda quick,” Rico says, wary of police who troll these areas. Rico crouches and moves through a hole cut in a chainlink fence, and wades into high weeds in the forgotten backyard of a slumping apartment building. Nearby stands the skeleton of a burned-out house.

He dashes through an alley and hops through a window, into another abandoned building. Standing inside the black, moldy honeycomb of rotted walls, he hears a sound. “Who’s there?” he calls into the darkness. The noises stop. The air is cold, damp and filled with the pungent odor of rot.

Starr reaches inside a large handbag in which she hoards potato chips and chicken, which, she admits, she steals from Ralph’s. She pulls out a key and opens a locked door on one corridor. Light spills in, just enough to illuminate a sodden floor that’s spongy underfoot. There is a gaping hole in the ceiling’s Sheetrock. The windows are boarded shut, sunlight sketching the gaps along the window edges. Rico lights a candle, shedding faint light on the young couple’s twin bed.

The thumping that Rico had heard appears — a human shadow crosses the doorway. “Just trying to spook you, man,” says Jason, a young man who sleeps on a mattress nearby.

Rico and Starr laugh nervously, but it’s not that funny. In these abandos everything is spooky. Rico hates seeing his breath when it’s cold. It reminds him of ghosts.

Starr reaches for a can of disinfectant and sprays it wildly. “The mildew smell is too much,” she says. “We just come in here to sleep.”

“Yeah, let’s go get some air,” Rico says. The two leave Jason in the depths and re-enter the world outside.

Rico, like two of his four siblings, grew up in L.A.’s foster-care system. At 17 he was involved in a robbery and went to juvenile hall. When he came out at 18, he was already too old. His foster care had been terminated. The best thing that’s happened in the three years since was finding Starr in a shelter for homeless youth.

Rico is one of 25,000 foster youth nationally who grow too old for foster care each year, and his story is not uncommon.

Major changes could be on the way, because national child welfare–policy leaders no longer believe the notion that 18-year-olds can fend for themselves. Last week, a top researcher on the failures of foster youth programs released the first cost-benefit analysis that delved into the idea of keeping youth in foster care past 18, invigorating a drive to change the law.

Former President George W. Bush signed the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, which includes a new law offering federal funding to states that extend the age to 21 for foster youths who choose to stay. But to get that money, states must pass enabling legislation and match those funds, which in rough economic times makes it a daunting effort.

California Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass is pushing enabling legislation to fund a $70 million program, targeted at 18- to 21-year-olds, for the roughly 4,500 California foster youth who lose their safety nets every year. “At 18, kids with families can’t survive on their own in this economy,” Bass says. “What do you think it’s like when you have nobody?”

The nationwide study released March 9 makes the first fiscal argument for what is claimed by advocates anecdotally — that the long-term costs of abandoning young adults is much more expensive than helping them.

The study, which focuses on the increased earnings these youth earn if they manage to get a college education, concludes that keeping young adults in foster care could mean a $2.40 return on every dollar spent.

The report did not include the price of maintaining a population of former foster kids who hang out on the rooftops of tough urban areas for safety and sleep in abandoned buildings: the increased medical, prison, rehab, welfare and teen-pregnancy costs.

The study’s lead researcher, Mark Courtney, director of Partners for Our Children at the University of Washington, says foster youth are cut off at 18 because, historically, the foster-care apparatus did not want to take on extended caseloads. “If you talk to someone in the [children’s services] department, off the record they will probably tell you it is shameful that we do this,” he says.

In Los Angeles County, juvenile courts are charged with ensuring these youths have ID cards, Social Security cards and some idea where they are going to live, work or go to school — the basics that a parent would normally shepherd. Rhelda Shabazz, head of the Youth Services Department for DCFS, admits that some young people get pushed out of foster care when they are clearly not ready. “Although we know it does happen,” she says, “we trust the juvenile courts to fill their role as partner and gatekeeper.”

Some 400 “transitional housing” beds are available for the 1,200 youth fresh out of foster care each year in Los Angeles, as well as the roughly 2,000 who are still under 21 and, under the rules, can jostle for the same few beds.

Rico leads Starr to a “luxury” apartment building just off Hollywood Boulevard. He hops a gate, unlocks it for her, and in the elevator presses “R.”

The doors open. The air is fresh. The roof commands a view from downtown to the Hollywood sign. Rico takes off his shoes and dips his feet in the rooftop pool. The sun is pulling low and there’s a chill in the air.

Rico used to live up here, before the security guards caught on. Like other kids who try to get up off the streets, sometimes he would sleep under the sky and stare out at illuminated Griffith Observatory. When it got cold, he would climb into the crawlspace under the pool.

Although Starr never stayed up here with him, she immediately sees the appeal. “It’s a funny way to see the city,” she says. “I am always seeing places where I can sleep.”

“It’s really just us two,” Rico says. “If you got a girlfriend, that’s your best friend.” Starr looks at him and smiles. “I don’t know what I’d do without him,” she says. “Now I can understand why those older homeless people talk to themselves.”

In the growing gloom, Rico and Starr descend and head back to their room in an “abando,” hidden from the traffic coursing along Hollywood Boulevard.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Assembly bill would help put new federal policies and money to work for the state's kids

Editorial: Fixing foster care in California
Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2009.

For years, thousands of California youths were abused or neglected twice over -- first by parents who couldn't or wouldn't provide basic care, then by governmental agencies that sent them to live with strangers instead of extended family, only to cut them off from all support on their 18th birthdays. The state and many of its counties are now doing better, keeping foster children with family members whenever possible, and in some cases continuing care to age 21 to ensure that young adults have a place to live, adequate job training or admission to college.

Outmoded and foolishly restrictive federal laws discouraged humane and cost-saving innovations -- until last year, when Congress adopted a wide-ranging overhaul of federal foster care reimbursements. Now a state bill by two Assembly Democrats, Jim Beall Jr. of San Jose and Speaker Karen Bass of Los Angeles, would help put the new federal thinking -- and funding -- to work for California kids.

AB 12 would permit California to use federal money to pay half the cost of its kinship guardian program, allowing grandparents and other family members to get the same financial help that formerly could go only to group homes or unrelated foster parents. But that's just Part One. The money that the state and county would save because of the new federal participation would then go to extending services to foster youth until they become 21 -- and those dollars would in turn be matched by more new federal money.

The bill would represent a huge step forward in fulfilling the state's duty to see abused and neglected kids through childhood, in the care of loving family members when possible, and into college or paying jobs. But some caution is in order. As final language is hammered out, there may be pressure to divert savings to help with the state's budget woes instead of reinvesting in foster care. That would be a costly mistake; a study released Monday showed a $2.40 return for every dollar invested in extended foster care.

Some attention is needed on the federal side as well. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines issued in the waning days of the Bush administration restrict funding to "new" kinship-guardian relationships, not existing ones the state and counties already pay for. That punishes California for having done the right thing for families while waiting for Congress to catch up. Revising that language would help more kids here and further the purposes of the federal law.

The department also could help by making clear that emotional or mental health problems are sufficient medical reasons for extending foster care for young people between 18 and 21 who are incapable of holding a job or pursuing vocational, secondary or higher education. Lawmakers, both federal and state, certainly did not intend to push onto the street (or into more costly programs) those children most in need of help.

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LA County Probation Dept. mistakenly bills foster parents

L.A. County studying how others bill for detained youths
Hennessy-Fiske, Molly. Los Angeles Time, March 12, 2009.

After coming under criticism for billing foster parents and those of limited means, the Probation Department is gathering information on what other counties are doing.

Los Angeles County probation officials say they are now studying how other counties recover juvenile detention costs, after admitting they mistakenly billed parents for days when youths were held in probation camps and halls.

By law, California counties can bill parents and legal guardians for some daily costs of detaining youths, but only those whose parents can afford to pay. Last year, more than 20,000 youths were admitted to probation camps and halls, and L.A. County billed parents a daily charge of $11.94 for camps, $23.63 for halls.

Chief Probation Officer Robert Taylor declared a moratorium on billing Feb. 13 after The Times and children's advocates raised questions about improper billing.

"We're looking at everything other counties are doing. A lot of what we're finding is that other counties are doing what we're doing," Taylor said. "Out of 20,000 minors, there will be errors, and we're looking at ways to prevent that."

Taylor had been scheduled to meet behind closed doors with county administrators Wednesday to discuss the moratorium and federal monitoring of probation camps. However, after The Times and children's advocate groups questioned why the meeting was to be closed to the public, administrators postponed the session, which could be held as soon as next Wednesday.

Last week, county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky questioned why the county spent $12,800 hiring private lawyers to recover $1,004 from Sally Stokes, a disabled Compton grandmother. That bill was dismissed days later by a juvenile court referee who found Stokes unable to pay.

County lawyers promised to tell Yaroslavsky how much they have spent trying to collect probation debts but had yet to report as of Wednesday. Gordon W. Trask, principal deputy county counsel, said the Stokes case was "the only one of its kind."

Excluding legal costs, last year the Probation Department spent nearly $900,000 to collect just 11% of what parents owed, about $2.6 million.

The department was not supposed to bill foster parents, including relatives or "kin care" foster parents, because the state does not hold them financially responsible for the children they take in. The state reimburses foster parents and kin-care providers for child-care expenses but stops payment for children who are detained.

Because the department does not track which youths in its system are foster children, it is not clear how many foster parents were improperly billed, Taylor said. At least 111 foster youths were detained last year, according to the county's Department of Children and Family Services.

"We're not supposed to bill them, but I know we have," Taylor said.

Among those mistakenly billed was the president of the L.A. County Resource Families Coordinating Council and the California State Care Providers Assn., a group of about 800 foster caregivers.

Aubrey Manuel, 50, of South Los Angeles, a retired Bank of America staffer, said he and other foster parents have fought probation bills for years.

"It just makes sense that you should not be charging foster parents for these children," said Manuel, who is currently fostering six boys, half of whom are on probation. "Foster parents are people who are stepping up to the plate saying we'll help with this problem we have in society."

Taylor said he realized that billing foster parents was counterproductive and might lead people to reconsider taking children in. He said he was reviewing ways to improve the efficiency of billing, such as gathering information about parents when a youth is admitted to detention or at initial court hearings.

Probation officials in other counties with large numbers of youths in detention said they do more to ensure that parents understand their rights and that foster parents are not mistakenly billed.

"You don't want to grind somebody to the point where they say forget it," said Melanie Markley, Ventura County's chief deputy probation officer.

Ventura County screens parents when youths are admitted to detention and at court hearings, notifying them of their right to appeal the bills in writing. Orange and Sacramento county probation officials include a breakdown of charges with probation bills and information about parents' rights.

In San Diego County, juvenile court judges determine who is financially responsible for probation youths, ensure that foster and other parents are not mistakenly billed and that those who are billed understand what they owe, said Derryl Acosta, a probation spokesman. Alameda County probation officials station financial evaluators across from juvenile court so they can find needy parents quickly.

By law, counties must take into account parents' income and "necessary obligations," but so far, Los Angeles' Probation Department has used a 2003-04 income scale to decide how much parents can afford to pay, without allowing for expenses.

By contrast, Santa Clara County takes into account parents' monthly housing, utilities, food, clothing and transportation expenses. Orange County does not bill the disabled, terminally ill, mentally ill and those who owe child support or federal tax debts.

Most counties bill legal guardians and adoptive parents, but some make exceptions. Sacramento County bills only legal guardians who take in children before they turn 10. San Bernardino County waives probation bills for legal guardians.

"Our reasoning is that we do not want to deter those who are volunteering to assist juveniles by making them financially responsible for these types of bills," said Scott Frymire, the county's chief deputy probation administrator.

In Los Angeles, Taylor said he stands by billing adoptive parents and legal guardians, including relatives.

"Otherwise, some parents dump them on the system," Taylor said. "I know it sounds cruel, but if they adopted them, that child is their responsibility, just like a natural child."

Kim McGill of the nonprofit Inglewood-based Youth Justice Coalition, disagreed. If parents are dumping children on the system, she said, the department should send caseworkers to their homes, not bills.

"A caseworker makes a lot more difference than threatening parents," McGill said.

Counties are required by law to recoup medical costs from probation youth with private medical insurance, but L.A. County has not done so, probation and health services officials said.The county has not tracked which probation youths have medical insurance, but after supervisors' staff inquired last month, probation and health services officials began investigating to see how much money the county could save, Taylor said. Medical costs account for about 80% of daily charges in the halls and 38% of daily charges in the camps, according to probation records.

Taylor has not said when the billing moratorium will end but has submitted a proposal to increase the daily charges to parents to $14.96 for youths sent to juvenile camps, $29.28 for those held in juvenile halls.

Before billing resumes, parents want an independent task force to review the system.

"This is a system that has a lot of flaws in it," said Elizabeth Calvin, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch in Los Angeles. "This cannot be fixed piecemeal."

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Penalizing foster parents for caring for detained youth

L.A. County probation's wrongful billing angers foster advocates
Hennessy-Fiske, Molly. Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2009.

Advocates for foster parents of troubled youths are incensed that Los Angeles County probation officials billed them daily for their children's stays in juvenile detention, garnished their pay and placed liens on their homes.

"It would be just as logical to bill the teacher of the child or the Sunday school teacher or the minister," said Bob Thomas, a University of San Diego law professor and director of the Children's Advocacy Institute, calling the bills "inexcusable."

"You could ruin their credit," Thomas said. "It's very serious to send a bill to somebody backed up by sanctions."

Aubrey Manuel, 50, a retired bank worker in South Los Angeles and foster father of six adolescent boys, has been fighting probation bills for years.

"I would send them back saying I don't owe this," said Manuel, president of California State Care Providers Assn. "The next thing I know, there's this lien on my property."

Foster parents often did not have the means to pay probation bills that added up to thousands of dollars. Although the state reimburses them for some of the cost of care, based on the ages and the number of their foster children, those payments stop for a youth who is detained.

Furthermore, foster care groups have long complained that the state payments are too low.

Foster care payments top out at $627 a month for youths 15 to 17, which works out to about $21 a day. By contrast, Los Angeles County probation charges $23.63 a day for juvenile hall stays.

The last foster care reimbursement increase two years ago was 5%, about $22 extra a month per parent. Several foster parent groups sued the state to increase payments; and in October a federal district court judge in San Francisco ruled in their favor, although the state is appealing.

Regina Deihl, executive director of San Francisco-based Legal Advocates for Permanent Parenting, called the billing of foster parents "insulting."

"It's particularly alarming and disturbing in this time of economic stress that you are seeing this going on," said Deihl, who is also a foster parent and has seen the ranks thin in recent years.

"We are losing people," she said.

The number of foster parents in Los Angeles County has dropped about 22% during the last five years, from 8,453 to 6,577. Although the number of children in need of foster care also contracted about 25% during that period as more youths were reunited with their natural families or adopted, Deihl said some of the foster parents who left the system are most needed now: those, like Manuel, who are willing to take in troubled youth, many of whom land in detention.

Both probation and the courts have recently started new programs that target at-risk foster youth, including a Georgetown University Center for Juvenile Justice Reform training project and a pilot program offering intensive intervention and support for foster youth in Pasadena juvenile court. But they do not track how many foster youths are detained each year, and Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash has acknowledged that more needs to be done to prevent them from "crossing over" from foster care to detention.

"For kids who do cross over, we need to get a handle on what's going on in their life," Deihl said. "Just billing parents is not the answer."

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Children are dying due to lack of timely intervention and oversight

More children dying of abuse, neglect in Sacramento County
Lundstom, Marjie and Sam Stanton. Sacramento Bee, March 10, 2009.

The number of children who died of abuse and neglect shot up in Sacramento County last year, nearly triple the previous year's toll, a new report has found.

Eleven children died in 2008 from abuse and neglect, compared with four in 2007, according to a self-assessment from Child Protective Services scheduled for delivery to the Board of Supervisors today.

The assessment, required every three years, found that CPS has fallen significantly below the state average for how quickly social workers respond to reports of possible abuse. Of all referrals requiring an in-person response, Sacramento CPS fell to 82 percent for those requiring a contact within 24 hours – well below the 96 percent state average – in the first quarter of 2008.

The report also revealed a worsening record in frequency of local CPS workers' visits to clients' homes. In March 2008, 89 percent of Sacramento children who required monthly CPS visits received them, down from 98 percent in March 2006 and March 2007.

The decline in response occurred even as fewer CPS cases were being opened for investigation, the report noted.

Release of the report comes as CPS finds itself under scrutiny for a series of problems, ranging from the increase in child deaths to revelations that documents inside the agency have been altered – issues disclosed by an 18-month Bee investigation. Soon, a county audit of the agency is expected to be released, and a grand jury report on CPS also is under way.

Until now, CPS has largely blamed its problems on individual workers and their failure to follow policies and procedures.

But this document reveals more systemic issues within the agency, including a widespread lack of training, poorly prepared supervisors, high caseload and "slow and burdensome" discipline for problem workers.

Overall, the report concluded, CPS needs to do more to protect vulnerable children. The last time Sacramento child abuse and neglect deaths hit double digits was in 1999, according to Child Death Review Team figures, which differ slightly from the county's.

"Since March 2008, there has been a significant rise in child abuse-related deaths within Sacramento County," said the report from Lynn Frank, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CPS.

Though the report made it clear that "not all of the children were known to Sacramento County CPS prior to their deaths," it said that "immediate action has been taken to examine the circumstances of each death and to examine policies and practice as they relate to those circumstances."

The circumstances of how some children died last year illustrate failings that CPS identified in its own assessment.

For instance, 4-year-old Jahmaurae Allen died July 21. The social worker in that case failed to connect with the family for seven days after a doctor reported suspicious injuries to CPS, even though the agency had flagged the situation for an "immediate response," or contact within 24 hours.

When Jahmaurae's social worker did meet with the family, she closed the case after a cursory review. The boy died one month later; the mother's live-in boyfriend faces murder charges.

The agency pointed out in its new report that it has reduced the percentage of children being sent back to foster care after an earlier removal from their homes. This "foster care re-entry" declined from 21.9 percent of kids returning to foster care in 2004 to 15.8 percent in 2006-07, the most recent data available.

This trend, though, did not help 3-year-old Valeeya Brazile, who died Feb. 5 after being removed from her mother for violence. The little girl was placed with a stable foster family where, by all accounts, she was happy and thriving. She was returned home less than four months later and, the following year, was beaten to death – allegedly by the mother's boyfriend.

Both Valeeya's and Jahmaurae's mothers also face child endangerment charges.

In acknowledging the agency's weaknesses, the report stated that CPS faces high worker turnover, a lack of experienced workers and daunting caseloads.

CPS caseloads in its various programs range from an average 10.6 cases per worker each month to as many as 46.3 cases per month.

The agency has taken pride in recent years in its use of "Structured Decision Making," a check-off list that provides guidance to front-line workers assessing safety and risk in troubled families.

But the new report warns – yet again – that the agency's use of SDM has been "inaccurate and inconsistent."

Last December, 2-year-old twins were shot to death by their father, two years after CPS had used SDM to assess the family following an incident with an older child.

In 2006, the 12-year-old girl – who had three siblings – had told authorities that her stepfather had been beating her with a stick, forcing her to go without food, shaving her head and making her sleep in the garage without blankets, according to CPS documents.

Ultimately, the agency determined that the four children's risk of neglect was "moderate" and their risk of abuse was "low," the documents show. A safety assessment determined that there were "no children likely to be in immediate danger of serious harm."

Two years later, the twins, along with their mother, were shot to death in their south Sacramento home. The father committed suicide.

Over the years, the CPS Oversight Committee has criticized the agency for how it evaluates potential risk to children. The citizens committee, formed in the aftermath of 3-year-old Adrian Conway's brutal 1996 death, has repeatedly told the Board of Supervisors that CPS workers and supervisors are failing to properly use the tools that help assess a child's current safety and future risk of harm.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Financial incentive to support foster care youth until age 21

Selected recent California newspaper editorials
San Jose Mercury News, March 11, 2009.

San Francisco Chronicle: "To invest in our children"

California not only has a moral obligation to do more for the thousands of foster youth who "age out" of the system every year. It also has strong financial incentives to help support them to age 21.

The Fostering Connections Act, signed into law last year by President George W. Bush, will offer federal reimbursements to states that choose to extend foster care to age 21. To qualify, those foster youth would need to be enrolled in school or a job-training program, working at least 80 hours a month or unable to do any such activity because of a medical condition.

California needs to seize this opportunity to enhance the lives of its foster youth—while improving its bottom line in the process. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Baldwin Vista (Los Angeles County), and Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, have introduced state legislation (AB12) that would allow California to tap those federal funds for youths between 18 and 21.

Myriad studies have shown that the period immediately after "emancipation" at age 18 is the most precarious for a foster youth.

These young people—our children, our collective responsibility—are many times more likely than teenagers with family-support structures to become homeless, incarcerated or pregnant. Their chances of getting a college degree are somewhere in the single digits, according to various studies.

A new study of three states
(Illinois, which extends foster care benefits to age 21; and Iowa and Wisconsin, which do not) underscores the cost-benefit ratio of helping young adults get on the right track. The study found that each dollar spent on extended-years support to foster youths returns $2.40 as a result of their increased education alone. If anything, that cost-benefit analysis is extremely conservative, considering the state costs of incarceration, teen pregnancy, homelessness and mental-health programs.

Fortunately, the top leaders in Sacramento understand all this. Bass and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, have long championed the cause of foster care. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed significant reform legislation that has brought more accountability and services into the system.

Bass, Steinberg and the governor's health and human services director all participated at a Monday news conference in support of AB12. If the measure is passed by legislators and signed into law, California would be eligible for federal reimbursement in October 2010.

This one deserves fast, bipartisan approval.

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Extending Foster Care to Age 21 is a proven solution

Advocates Want Foster Care Extended
March 9, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KCBS) - Some California officials are pushing a plan to extend foster care for kids until they are 21-years-old. They cite a new study that says it would save the state millions of dollars in the long run.

California isn't exactly flush with money right now, but the federal government passed a law last fall that offers $80 million in matching funds, if the state keeps young adults in foster care after they turn 18.

Kevin West, 23, spent years in foster homes, group homes, sleeping in cars and on benches and beaches in Santa Cruz. "Many foster youth know too well from their days being in the system that many of them will not make it. And they're not expected to make it, really. Most of them, after emancipation, find themselves living on the streets, they're incarcerated or their lives end prematurely."

A new study of foster extension programs in the Midwest find at least a 2-to-1 cost-benefit for the states, so San Jose Assemblyman Jim Beall said it's worth it for California to continue foster care for the 18 to 21-year-old group. "In states that provide the kind of support proposed by this bill, AB 12, the outcome for foster care youth have been dramatically improved. So this is a proven solution."

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Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to support foster youth until age 21

Governor Schwarzenegger Supports Extending Federal Foster Care
Imperial Valley News, March 9, 2009.

Sacramento, California - Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued the following statement today in support of extending AFDC-FC benefits to California’s foster youth up to the age of 21:

I am committed to working with Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on a bipartisan solution that ensures our children and youth in foster care are provided with the tools needed to succeed at life. Along with our federal partners, together we can better equip our youth by making sure they continue to have access to important resources and services as they transition into adulthood. I look forward to continue working across the aisle with the legislature and our federal and local partners on an issue important to so many Californians.”

The Governor last year signed a package of bills aimed at improving the lives of children and youth in California’s foster care system by making it easier for caregivers and providers to access the resources they need to protect one of the state’s most vulnerable populations. The legislation makes it easier for caregivers who receive CalWORKS grants to reapply after relocating within the state, increases access to the alternative foster care programs for youth in need of additional support, and provides for the continuation of federal child welfare funding.

Last year, the Governor also signed AB 2310 and AB 2483 to ensure that youth aging out of the foster care system have access to resources and services, including financial aid, career services and other benefits. In addition, the Governor’s Department of Social Services worked in conjunction with the U.S. Social Security Administration to quickly adopt a federal provision in 2008 to ensure implementation of AB 1331 by Assemblymember Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) making it possible for foster youth to leave foster care with approved benefits in place rather than waiting months to receive them.

In 2007, the Governor signed a series of bills to further enhance foster care services in California. And in 2006, the Governor signed a package of legislation designed to improve California’s foster care system and the safety of children entrusted to the state’s care. Also in 2006, the Governor secured a first-of-its-kind federal waiver that provides unprecedented flexibility by allowing counties to use federal funds to support innovative strategies that keep children out of foster care and in safe, stable homes.

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Foster care is one of Karen Bass' top three priorities

Foster care, front and center
Capitol Alert , March 9, 2009.

When Karen Bass first ascended to the Assembly speakership, she named overhauling the state's foster care system among her top three priorities.

(The other two were balancing the budget and modernizing the state's tax codes.)

Today, Bass and a host of others will hold a press conference to highlight a new report that says California "could realize at least a 2-1 benefit-to-cost ratio in extending foster care for youth to age 21."

Among the attendees will be: Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, former Senate leader John Burton and a bipartisan cast of current legislators.

Bass will press for AB 12, legislation she's co-authoring with Assemblyman Jim Beall, to extend the foster care age and try to capture more federal funds.

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