Foster Care Advocates and Stakeholders Call for Overall System Reform

July 31, 2008
Contact: Rodney Foo @  (408) 282-8920

SACRAMENTO --- Today, foster care advocates and stakeholders were at the Capitol to provide testimony on the challenges and solutions needed to strengthen the state’s Foster Care System, which is the largest in the country.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, (D-Los Angeles) and the Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care, chaired by Assemblymember Jim Beall, Jr.,(D- San Jose), listened to foster care advocates outline best practices on helping families stay together, providing support for social workers and ensuring the well-being of foster youth and families.

“There are many successful programs throughout the state that provide us a blueprint to bridging the gaps that exist in the system,” said Assemblymember Beall.  “We have to take these programs and determine how we can duplicate them on a large scale to achieve system-wide change to improve the outcomes that we have currently.”

Speaker Bass noted that there are approximately 74,000 children in California’s Foster Care System.  Fifty percent of the children who enter foster care are younger than age 5. “While nearly half of these children will reunify with their families, too many will return to foster care because of the lack of an available, long-term stable funding stream to provide supportive services. California is failing the federal performance measure related to repeat visits to foster care,” Speaker Bass declared.

According to foster care advocates, far too many children are trapped in the system and remain in foster care until they “age out” at 18.  With no place to go, one in four of the youths who age out is incarcerated within two years of leaving foster care, one in five becomes homeless at some time after age 18, only 46% complete high school, a mere 3 % earn a college degree, and just 51% of aged out foster care youths have a job at age 21.

To address these issues, one of the subjects addressed in today’s hearing was how to prevent youth from entering into Foster Care.  Kathryn Icenhower, executive director of SHIELDS for Families, provided testimony to the Select Committee on the Point of Engagement Model that focuses on addressing the issues of the whole family. This community-based agency partners with Los Angeles County to identify and provide the services needed to keep the families together. The program, located in Compton, has a high success rate keeping families together.

“We can’t continue to pull children out of their homes and place them into the System,” said Speaker Bass. “SHEILDS success proves that there is a better way to approach ensuring that we are doing what’s best for the welfare of the child. These are our children and this is their future we are dealing with. We owe it to them to make sure we give them the best opportunity to succeed.”

The hearing included a panel with youth from California Youth Connection that provided information on the challenges teenagers face as they prepare to transition out of the System at age 18. Select Committee members also heard from social workers from Fresno and San Mateo Counties that utilize effective practices including spending more time with families in order to obtain a clear understanding of their situation. Representatives from Orange County were also on hand providing information on their programs.

The mission of the Select Committee on Foster Care is to address how the state’s Foster Care System "parents" foster youth as well as determining the way in which the various agencies can effectively work together on the critical challenges and issues that impact our state's at-risk children. The Select Committee will focus on statewide leadership and collaboration; challenges and hurdles facing relative caregivers; critical needs of teens in foster care, crossover youth, and emancipation; and critical role and importance of the court and legal process.

Members include Assemblymembers Jim Beall, Jr., Chair (D, San Jose); Bill Maze, Vice Chair (R- Visalia); Patty Berg (D-Humboldt); Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto); Noreen Evans (D-Napa); Ted Gaines (R-Roseville); Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley); Shirley Horton (R-San Diego); Dave Jones (D-Sacramento); Mark Leno (D-San Francisco); Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco); Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks); Nicole Parra (D-Hanford); Anthony Portantino (D-Pasadena); Sharon Runner (R-Lancaster); Ira Ruskin (D-Los Altos); and (D-Nell Soto).