Foster Care Reform (where are you?)

Below is an article that represents Californina in 2005.  The US has 50 (FIFTY!) states... how long will real quality reform take?

Foster care -- hope emerges
Reform efforts gain momentum

Thursday, December 22, 2005

IN THE PAST several months, California has taken long-overdue steps toward fixing the broken foster-care system.

From the Legislature to the judiciary to local officials, foster children, whose needs have been grossly overlooked for far too long, are finally getting some attention.

On the state level, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez approved in October the creation of the Select Committee on Foster Care, as proposed by Assemblywoman Karen Bass, D-Baldwin Vista (Los Angeles County). Members of the committee will have their work cut out for them.

Foster care in California is a county-run system, where no clear statewide leadership is in place. Thus, the quality of care depends largely on where the foster child lives. Adding to the problem of inconsistency is inadequate federal funding that leaves each county to come up with its own funding for whatever additional services are needed. In some counties, social workers are burdened with up to 35 cases each, making it impossible to give individual foster children the time and care they deserve.

Foster care is supposed to be a refuge for children whose home lives involved drugs, abuse, neglect and instability. But once in the system, many children find themselves lost in the broken home that the state has built, fending for themselves and having no one adult to turn to consistently. Then, at 18, the state cuts them off from all services and expects them to be independent adults.

Bass says she hopes to use the 12-member committee to identify problem areas and introduce legislation to fix them. The group launched its series of public hearings Nov. 21 in Los Angeles. The next hearing will be held Feb. 6 at the Capitol.

In October, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a series of bills that will give foster youth a better chance to find a permanent home and succeed once they age out of the system. The bills focused on services for emancipating youth, permanent homes and teen parents in foster care.

In the court system, California Chief Justice Ron George announced the formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission on Foster Care, to be chaired by state Supreme Court Associate Justice Carlos Moreno.

The commission will focus on bringing much-needed attention and support to juvenile dependency courts, where judges decide if children will be taken from their homes and placed in foster care, where they will live, and for how long.

In November, the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law previewed to The Chronicle a county-by-county comparison of various quality-of-life measurements in foster care, which it will release to the public in January. The data, which has never been compiled before, have forced counties to examine their performance and outcomes, as well as look at those of other counties.

For example, in November, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced a plan to use an $894,000 state grant to focus on foster families through nonprofit agencies that deal with drug abuse, alcoholism, unemployment and mental health.

In addition, San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Maxwell announced the formation of a foster-care task force, which would focus on the disproportionate number of African Americans among San Francisco's foster-youth population.

The nonprofit sector's critical role in helping foster youth received a boost from former state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, whose John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes has been funding programs for homeless children.

Now, Burton says, he is committed to extending that aid to foster children and will eventually head to Sacramento and Washington to lobby his former colleagues to pass legislation aimed at improving the foster-care system. In the meantime, Burton has been speaking to the governor about making foster care a top priority.

Each of these efforts, at every level, is a step in the right direction, but much work remains to be done.

Until there is a clear statewide goal to bring more resources -- and consistency -- to California's foster-care system, each step will only serve as a piecemeal approach to a systemwide problem.

"It is very important to continue putting our children first and doing everything we can to protect their well-being," said the governor in a statement released in October.

It's time this former action hero put some real action behind those words by focusing on the state's 80,000 foster care children, whose success or failure is the responsibility of us all.

About the series

The first in our series of editorials on the problems with California's foster-care system was published on Sept. 11, 2005. Editorial writer Pati Poblete profiled the plight of Sade, a 17-year-old foster youth who has been bounced from one placement to another in the East Bay. Since then, Sade's life has taken several positive turns, and there are signs that policymakers are finally getting serious about bringing more money and more oversight to the system. The onus now falls on the governor and legislators to make foster care a priority for 2006. We will continue writing on this issue until those reforms are achieved. Please send your feedback and ideas to Links to our past foster-care editorials can be found under "Chronicle campaigns" at

-- John Diaz, editorial page editor

Foster youth facts

Studies of foster youth done four years after emancipating, or "aging out," of the system at age 18, showed the following:

Less than half of emancipated youth graduated from high school, compared to 85 percent of all 18-to-24-year-olds

Fewer than 1 in 8 graduated from a four-year college

Two-thirds had not maintained employment for a year

Fewer than 1 in 5 was completely self-supporting

More than a quarter of the males spent time in jail

Four of 10 had become parents as a result of an unplanned pregnancy

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

This article appeared on page B - 6 of the San Francisco Chronicle


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