Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Protecting Foster Youth from Petty Politics

It started out so promising—a bipartisan coalition of legislators and the governor were working together to make steady progress toward improving California’s foster care system. But then the governor abandoned us and foster youth are paying the price.

Under the leadership of former Speaker Karen Bass, the Legislature established a joint, bipartisan Select Committee on Foster Care. Several of us met with the governor in 2005 and received his personal commitment to work with us to improve our foster care system.

Slowly but surely, enormous progress was made by doing much more for foster youth with very little additional resources. California was improving transitional services for youth aging out of the foster care system. California was strengthening its Kinship Guardian Assistance Payment (KinGap) program to identify relatives with whom to place foster children. This progress was something in which all of us took great pride. The Legislature’s partnership with the governor was leaving a brighter legacy of care for foster children in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Then, last year, in what appears to have been a swipe at former Speaker Karen Bass, the governor vetoed $80 million in funding for the Child Welfare Services program. Since this program receives $53 million in matching federal funds, the loss to the program totals $133 million.

As a result of the governor’s line item budget vetoes, abused and neglected children across the state are not receiving the services they need. This is mainly because of a shortage of social workers, 509 of whom have lost their jobs over the last year. Consequently, children are suffering long waits to be reunited with their families. Sacramento County, for example, has cut 30% of its staff and faces another round of staffing cuts. This has forced nearly 3,000 children in the Sacramento region to remain in foster care longer than necessary.

The problems for foster youth don’t end there. Imperial County has eliminated its program to prevent the placement of children in state care, Intensive Family Reunification Services. And court hearings related to child welfare are being delayed across the state, keeping nearly 2 million children trapped in potentially life-threatening situations.

That is why the governor must support the restoration of child welfare funding, which began with today’s vote in the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services to do just that.

A day in the life of a child is long. A day in the life of an abused or neglected child in foster care is even longer. The abused and neglected children in our foster care system should not continue to face this intolerable and shameful situation.

The Assembly has acted. I hope the governor joins us.