County child welfare officials and social workers are stymied by the lack of tools needed to better support young people in foster care.
Californians learned last month that a number of young people in foster care were housed in a county office because no other safe option was available.
We share the concerns over this heartbreaking situation. As a statewide organization of county human service agencies, we also know that didn’t have to happen.
For years, we have sounded the alarm bells about a worsening statewide crisis and called on heads of state to ensure the safety, support and services that children need. they need to heal.
Since 2015, county child welfare agencies have partnered with the state to overhaul California’s approach to caring for young victims of abuse or neglect. Most notably, California is part of a significant nationwide shift from group homes to family homes and support from resource parents (formerly known as “foster parents”) as young people stabilize and are recovering from trauma.
Unfortunately, this change and other factors have had the overall effect of reducing the state’s capacity to deal with young people with the most complex needs, particularly victims of sex trafficking, those with intensive mental health needs and developmental delays; and older youth. At the same time, our country is experiencing a well-documented mental health crisis among young people.
As these trends collide, heads of state must bring together counties, youth and families, and community organizations to develop and implement an immediate and comprehensive plan to address critical gaps in youth services that rely on us.
To ensure that counties can quickly move young people out of environments of abuse or neglect into support and stability, California needs to:
Accelerate funding to help youth with complex needs. At the behest of counties and youth organizations, lawmakers set aside, and Gov. Gavin Newsom approved, $ 100 million to help counties create services for young people with the most intensive needs. Counties have been eagerly awaiting the release of these funds since the state budget was signed in mid-July, but the funds have only just started to flow.
Restart the funds that support family caregivers. Specially targeted funding to recruit and support resource families, including those who take children into their homes for short-term emergency stays, expired in 2020. California remains well below the number of family homes needed for realize the state’s vision of moving away from collective care facilities, especially for young people with the highest needs.
Strengthen support for community providers. Nonprofit service providers who partner with county child welfare agencies are also struggling with labor shortages and caring for young people with the most complex needs. They need additional financial support.
Help counties support youth in crisis. California lacks options for youth in foster care with highly specialized needs, such as youth in mental health crisis, those who are sexually exploited, or who have been victims of gang violence. Assembly Bill 226 by Assembly Member James Ramos to strengthen the state’s capacity to meet intensive needs was vetoed despite strong bipartisan support from the legislature. Newsom has pledged to address the issue again in 2022. We urge this work to be accelerated.
Complete the construction of a range of services for young people. While there are persistent gaps in services for California’s diverse young foster families, young people are particularly vulnerable to homelessness as they approach aging in care. We call on the administration and the legislature to expand the Transitional housing placement program for minors and other necessary supports, working with youth and families to ensure that services are comprehensive, relevant and culturally appropriate.
Child welfare officials and social workers in California counties are stymied by the lack of tools they need to better support young people in foster care. Increased state leadership and legislative oversight is needed to develop new options for California’s 60,000 youth across a range of needs, from longer-term family services to short-term, crisis-driven providers.