|April 9, 1992|
|The Honorable Pete Wilson
Governor of California
|The Honorable David Roberti
President Pro Tempore of the Senate
and Members of the Senate
The Honorable Willie L. Brown Jr.
|The Honorable Kenneth L. Maddy
Senate Republican Floor Leader
The Honorable Bill Jones
|Dear Governor and Members of the Legislature:
Taking a child away from his natural parent is a last-resort decision that the State sometimes must make. The weight and importance of this wrenching decision is such that all logic dictates that the State must then see that the child has a better, fuller, healthier life than is possible with the natural parents.
Unfortunately, the Little Hoover Commission has seen compelling evidence that this is not occurring. Children too often are cast adrift in a foster care system that fails to safeguard their lives and their futures. Despite spending $1.4 billion on welfare services for abused and neglected children, the State has failed miserably to ensure that these children, ripped from their troubled homes, are given the necessary nurturing for them to become well-rounded adults and productive citizens.
The Commission has reviewed California's Child Welfare Services program for the second time in five years and is dismayed to discover that many of the same problems and trends are still evident. In the report that is being transmitted with this letter, the Commission documents its extensive concerns and issues five findings, as well as 16 recommendations for reforms that would substantially impact the quality of life for foster children.
That children can come to harm--and even die--while supposedly under the protection of foster care is not in dispute. Recent newspaper stories have included:
It is an indictment of the State program that each of these children is now dead or irreparably injured. And it is enough to cause grave concern about the welfare of the approximately 81,000 children who have been removed from their homes--a number that is climbing dramatically each year.
The Commission believes the State should take steps to safeguard these children and to enhance their lives by focusing on several fronts, including:
Children who have cried out to our hearts because of abuse and neglect should not bear the pain of finding themselves in even worse situations once the State has removed them from their parents. The State must take steps to improve the Child Welfare Services Program--for the sake of the children.
Currently, more than 81,000 children are in the foster care system, having been removed from their homes and their natural families. These children are living in settings such as foster family homes, group homes and specialized care homes. The costs of placing and maintaining the children in these homes and of providing county services to the children amount to approximately $1.4 billion per year. In response to widespread criticisms of the foster care system, the federal government enacted the Federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-272), which required states to enact specific reforms in order to continue receiving federal funds related to foster care.In 1982, California incorporated the required federal changes into state law through the enactment of Chapter 978 (SB 14, Presley), which had the major goals of:
Since these reforms took place, a number of studies of the foster care system have been conducted including a 1987 review by the Little Hoover Commission that found a number of major problems in the delivery of children's services in California.More recently, and primarily in response to serious problems in Los Angeles County's foster care program, additional reviews have been done by the California Legislative Analyst, Auditor General and Senate Office of Research.There have been few indications that the foster care system has improved; indeed, all signs point to a worsening of conditions.
In July 1991, the Commission initiated this study of child welfare services to follow up on the foster care portions of its 1987 report and to identify and review any recent issues related to foster care.As a result, the Commission developed the following findings and related recommendations.
When government intervenes and takes over the responsibility of parenting children, it should be held to the same standards as the children's parents.Unfortunately, California's foster care system cannot even ensure the immediate safety and well-being of the children in the system, much less guarantee that these children will grow and develop into productive, well-adjusted adult members of society.Without true reform, the State's system will continue to remove children from their homes unnecessarily, encourage unstable placements, and perpetuate uncertainty regarding the safety and best interests of children.
Abuse and neglect of children by those whom they love and trust most -- their parents -- is a horrifying
nightmare.Unfortunately, that nightmare does not
always end when children are "rescued" and thrust into
California's foster care system.Despite the good intentions of
those who shape and administer child protective services, all
too often the program does not deliver on its promises.
In this study, the Little Hoover Commission focuses on some of the key issues surrounding out-of-home placement for children in California.
|The foster care system in California is part of the Child Welfare Services Program, which falls under the
authority of the State Department of Social Services but
is administered at the county level.The program is responsible
for investigating allegations of child abuse, neglect and
exploitation; providing services to children and their families to
end abuse, neglect and exploitation; supervising children in
foster care through case management; and, when necessary,
working to place children in out-of-home care, either temporarily
It is important to point out that an implicit goal of the Child Welfare Services Program is to provide the safety, stability, nurturing and guidance necessary for children to be able to grow up into productive, well-adjusted adult members of the community.This goal is most clearly articulated in a recent report issued by the California Child Welfare Strategic Planning Commission:
Currently, there are more than 81,000 infants, children and youths in out-of-home placements in California's foster care system.Each of these minors has been either:
adjudged a dependent of the court because of child abuse, neglect or exploitation;
Once placed in foster care, the children are supervised by either the county welfare department -- as is the case for approximately 93 percent of the children4-- or the county probation department.
The state, federal and county costs of maintaining foster children in out-of-home care facilities such as foster family homes, group homes and special homes for seriously emotionally disturbed youths, are budgeted to run more than $900 million in fiscal year 1992-93.5 The budgeted cost of counties' provision of child welfare services is an additional $500 million, bringing total annual costs for the Child Welfare Services Program to more than $1.4 billion for fiscal year 1992-93.6
The present Child Welfare Services Program reflects federal and state changes enacted in the late 1970s and early 1980s.These changes were sparked by widespread criticism from child welfare professionals (social workers, attorneys and academicians) of the services that were provided to abused and neglected children and children in foster care.7 Some of the specific criticisms:
In response to these criticisms, the federal government enacted the Federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-272), which required states to enact specific reforms in order to continue receiving federal funds related to foster care.In 1982, California assimilated the required federal changes into state law through the enactment of Chapter 978 (SB 14, Presley).9 This legislation established four separate child welfare services programs:
The major goals that Chapter 978, Statutes of 1982 attempted to accomplish through these four programs were to:
When counties do remove children from their homes, they have an array of possible placement facilities from which to select, depending on the children's needs, including:
It should also be noted that children who are placed in foster family homes or licensed small family homes, and who require additional care because of a health and/or behavior problem, are eligible for specialized care to be provided by a qualified care giver.
There has been recent and intense focus on Child Welfare Services in general and foster care in particular. But the topic is not a new one for the Little Hoover Commission. In 1987, the Commission completed a wide-ranging report on the delivery of children's services in the State of California.13 The report topics included child care, runaway/homeless youths and abused/neglected children, and the report's primary general recommendation was for the State to establish a Children's Czar or a Commission on Children and Youth to provide better coordination of all services to children. Under the topic of abused/neglected children, the report included an analysis of foster care and the State's Child Welfare Services Program, and contained six related findings and 11 related recommendations:
In the time since the Commission's report, there have been few indications that the foster care system has improved; indeed, all signs point to a worsening of conditions. In October 1990, the State Department of Social Services terminated its contract with Los Angeles County and took over the function of licensing foster family homes because of serious problems in the county's licensing and placement activities. (This situation is discussed in greater detail in Finding #4. )
Because roughly 41 percent of all the State's children receiving these services are in Los Angeles,14 the focus on that county's problems does not represent a singling out of one geographical area. The size of the program makes any issue in Los Angeles, in effect, a statewide issue.
Largely motivated by the Los Angeles situation, a series of reports looked at Child Welfare Services late in 1990 and early in 1991. The following are brief synopses of the reports' findings.
In addition to the above studies, the State Department of Social Services for the past two years has chaired a Child Welfare Strategic Planning Commission to produce a long-term strategic approach to Child Welfare Services. The commission, which was composed of 34 individuals representing a broad cross-section of those who deal with abused and neglected children, completed a report in November 1991 that identified the myriad needs of children and outlined general strategies to meet those needs.
Finally, an event that occurred in 1991 and that has potential for a significant impact on the State's foster care system was the state-county "realignment" package of bills that was enacted as part of the 1991-92 budget. In general, the package:
The realignment package is aimed at: reversing a pattern of yearly cutbacks in state funding for health, mental health and social services; providing a source of funding expected to grow yearly by seven or eight percent; and increasing county flexibility, discretion and effectiveness. The State's role in the realigned programs is supposed to be one of oversight and assessment.18
The Commission initiated its study of child welfare
services in California in July 1991. Its focus was to
follow up on the foster care portions of its 1987 report
on the delivery of children's services and to identify and review
any recent issues related to foster care.
To assist in framing potential issues for this study and to review the concepts and direction of this report, the Commission established an advisory committee on foster care. The committee included representatives of the State, county welfare departments, county probation departments, a county mental health department, education, county social workers, a research group and a group home operator. (Please see Appendix A for a list of the Commission's Foster Care Advisory Committee. )It should be noted that the composition of the advisory committee reflects only those parties who accepted the Commission's invitation to participate; the Commission also invited representatives from many other groups interested in child welfare services.
The Commission held two public hearings on foster care; the first hearing was held November 20, 1991 in San Francisco and the second was held January 22, 1992 in Los Angeles. Both hearings addressed the issues presented in this report and elicited testimony from foster youths, parents of foster youths, foster parents, child advocates, special interest groups, a juvenile court judge, and representatives of the State Department of Social Services, county welfare departments, a county probation department, group homes, and a foster family agency. (Please see Appendix B for a list of witnesses providing testimony for the Commission's two hearings. )
In addition to the public hearings, Commission staff conducted extensive fieldwork by reviewing literature, publications and statistics related to children's services in general and foster care in particular. In addition, the Commission and its staff toured county facilities, foster family homes and group homes in San Francisco, and interviewed numerous individuals throughout the State.
In addition to the Executive Summary, this report is
presented in nine sections, the first of which is this
introduction. The next five sections contain the study's
five major findings and their corresponding recommendations,
and the seventh section presents the Commission's overall
conclusions. The eighth section includes appendices containing
detailed information related to the study, and the ninth and final
section contains the report's endnotes.
|The State's foster care system runs contrary to the preservation of families.|
Despite the fact that children are best served by
remaining with their own families, California continues
to remove an increasing number of children from their
homes. Moreover, the children in the foster care system are
staying in the system longer. As a result of government's
failure to invest in less-expensive services that focus on
removing the problems from dysfunctional families rather than
removing the children, the State's costs continue to skyrocket
and children continue to be harmed by the removal from their
Generally, It Is
|Tragically, not all children can stay in their own homes
safely; nor can all children who are placed in out-of-home care return to their natural parents. It is a sad
fact of life that some families are so dysfunctional that the
children are better off by being removed permanently from their
parents and placed in other homes. Few people would argue,
for example, that it would be in the best interest of an 11-year-old girl to keep her in a family in which she was repeatedly
molested by her stepfather while her mother refused to believe
her, ignored her pleas for help, and continues to disbelieve the
child even after a court determined that the stepfather was
guilty. Nor would it be wise to return a 5-year-old boy to a
family in which each parent would periodically beat and/or
torture him by burning his buttocks with the end of a lit
cigarette. These types of children clearly need the love, care
and specialized services not available in their own families.
In general, however, children do best when they grow up with their own families. Some professionals estimate that between 35 percent and 70 percent of children who end up in foster care should not be there and can be severely damaged psychologically by the experience. According to a former chief of research and evaluation of the Children's Bureau of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services:
One psychologist, in speaking of the dynamics of removing a child from his or her family, stated, "Once a child is placed outside his home, something basic changes. A family is a bit like a spider's web. It's a finely drawn, interconnecting set of relationships. Once a spider's web is broken, you cannot put it back together again."20
As an example, consider the effect such a break-up had on a 17-year-old girl who testified at the Commission's November public hearing. The girl told of how she and her 11-year-old sister were removed from her alcoholic mother's care only to drift from one foster home to another and be serviced by five different social workers. The girl said she received nothing but discouragement from the social workers and counselors she came in contact with and, despite her and her sister's pleas to have her family reunited, she was told she could not go home because no services were available to treat her mother. Prior to being removed from her home, the girl was an honors student in school and had a 3. 8 grade point average; since being placed in foster care her grade point average has plummeted to 2.0. The girl also spoke of now living in shame because she felt that, without knowing where she might be moved to next, she could not even give out her address.21
An alternative to removing children from their homes is to remove the problems from the homes. Placement prevention programs provide such an alternative through family preservation services to children and their families. Through intensive support and supervision, such services help many troubled families whose children are at imminent risk of removal to remain safely together in their homes. Beginning in 1988, California has seen a total of 13 counties that have implemented, or have specific plans to implement, family preservation programs.22
Across the nation, as well as in California, the programs share some basic service characteristics in addition to the fundamental goal of protecting children while preventing their removal from home. Most often, specialized staff provide services to the family as a unit, generally in the home. Programs frequently have social workers on-call 24 hours a day. Funds are generally available for the purchase of marketed goods and services, like a housing deposit, the purchase of a playpen, or car repair. Services are intensive and time-limited. Small caseloads allow staff to devote many hours a week to help families make the changes necessary to avoid out-of-home placement. Linkage to community resources is provided to help when the short-term service delivery period ends.23
Some case examples further help to illustrate the mechanics of the programs:
By investing in the "up-front services" of a placement prevention program, the government accomplishes two important goals. First, by providing in-home services as an alternative to out-of-home placement, children can avoid the traumatic experience of being separated from their families and their homes.26 An early round of studies conducted by the founders of Tacoma, Washington's Homebuilders, the nation's first family preservation program, showed remarkable success rates: 94 percent of the children had avoided foster placement three months after receiving the family preservation services, and 88 percent had avoided placement at the end of a year. Programs using different models had similar outcomes. Maryland's Intensive Family Services claims that 95 percent of families it served avoided placement 90 days after services were provided, and that 90 percent had still avoided placement after two years.27 According to Contra Costa County officials, that county's program has kept 83 percent of families together for at least one year.28 Other programs boast that between 61 percent and 97 percent of placements were avoided one year after the programs began.29
Critics of these studies claim that they were conducted without control groups to provide an accurate comparison to families not receiving family preservation services and that such high rates are inflated. Some feel that a more accurate percentage of placement avoidance is closer to 10 percent. Studies that did contain control groups, however, showed clear advantages of family preservation services. (Please see Appendix C for a brief discussion of the results of such studies. )
A second goal that can be accomplished through placement prevention programs is the reduction of the growing cost of out-of-home care by helping many troubled families whose children are at imminent risk of removal remain together safely in their homes.30 A 1990 evaluation of the initial three family preservation projects in California concluded that, after only the first pilot year of the projects, the projects resulted in savings of more than $1 million in direct costs of placing children out of their homes.31 In Contra Costa County, officials estimate that for every $1,000 spent on a child in the family preservation program, it would cost $3,000 to keep the child in a foster home for the same amount of time and as much as $5,000 to put the child in a juvenile camp, which has very close supervision.32 Another 1990 study projected that an investment of $106 million in placement prevention programs in California over four years would reduce the direct costs of placing children out of their homes by $347 million over that same period.33 It should be noted that these studies did not contain control groups.
|Avery real danger associated with placement prevention
and family preservation programs is that they are not
appropriate for every dysfunctional family in need of
child welfare services. When physical violence or sexual abuse
is endemic to a family, there is no choice but to remove
victimized children from their home. For these children, such
crimes are so threatening that home preservation is not an
From that perspective, it is fortunate that only a minority of the children placed in out-of-home care are removed from their homes for reasons of physical or sexual abuse. On the following page, Figure 1 shows the reasons for the removal of all children who were placed out-of-home during calendar year 1991. (Please see Appendix D for definitions of the reasons for removal. )
As Figure 1 shows, of all the children removed from their homes during calendar year 1991, only 19.9 percent were removed because of physical or sexual abuse. The remaining 80.1 percent were removed for other reasons, such as neglect by the children's caretakers or violation of the law by the children.35 Some reasons included in the 80.1 percent figure, such as the death of a child's caretaker, would preclude family preservation services. For the vast majority of cases, however, reasons other than physical and sexual abuse would allow children to remain in their homes under a placement prevention program.
It is also interesting to note that physical and sexual abuse have constituted a decreasing percentage of all reasons for removal in recent years. During fiscal year 1988-89, they were the reasons of removal in 22.5 percent of the cases; in fiscal year 1989-90 they decreased to 20.9 percent of all reasons. And in fiscal year 1990-91, physical and sexual abuse were the reasons for removal in only 20.3 percent of all cases.36
Meanwhile, the reasons for removal that are most directly related to parental substance abuse -- specifically, endangerment due to parental neglect, incapacity or absence -- have increased.37 The fallout of substance abuse as felt by the foster care system is discussed more fully in Finding #2.
|As stated earlier, placement prevention programs exist in
California in only 13 counties. Moreover, the 13
counties in which the programs exist account for only
30.5 percent of all children placed in out-of-home care.38 It is
safe to say that, at this point in time, family preservation
programs are the exception rather than the norm.
Instead, California children continue to be removed from their homes in increasing numbers. Figure 2 shows the increase in the number of children placed in out-of-home care.
As Figure 2 illustrates, the number of children removed from their homes increased by nearly 11,000 (15.5 percent) over the four-year period, going from 70,527 in fiscal year 1988-89 to an estimated 81,459 in fiscal year 1991-92.39
In 1991, the California Legislative Analyst compared California's placement rate with two other large industrial states -- New York and Michigan -- and with the nation as a whole. The comparison showed that, once population increases were accounted for, the rate was higher in California than the rates in New York and Michigan and almost double the national average.40 Another 1991 study had similar findings: Not only did foster care placement rates increase in more than three-quarters of California's counties, but of the 46 counties large enough to rank, 30 counties have rates higher than the national average and 4 counties have rates double the national average.41
As one might expect, the costs associated with out-of-home placements have increased likewise. Figure 3 presents out-of-home placement costs for a five-year period.
As described in Figure 3, the cost of placing children in out-of-home care has increased nearly $400 million (72.3 percent) over the five-year period, increasing from approximately $553 million in fiscal year 1988-89 to a budgeted $952 million in fiscal year 1992-93.42
An even more striking view of the increase in placement costs is achieved when one considers that such costs amounted to only $150 million in 1981-82, the last fiscal year before the Child Welfare Services Program was restructured.43 In the 11 years since that time, the cost of placing children out of their homes has increased more than $800 million, or approximately 535 percent.
It is important to recognize that the cost figures discussed above represent only the costs directly associated with placing children out of their homes and in facilities such as foster family homes, group homes and special homes for seriously emotionally disturbed children; these costs primarily are made up of basic caseload costs and grants to maintain the children in the homes. The other portion of the Child Welfare Services Program -- counties' provision of child welfare services -- are not included, but have increased as well. In fact, child welfare services costs have increased from nearly $392 million in fiscal year 1988-89 to a budgeted $512 million in fiscal year 1992-93, an increase of about $120 million (30.6 percent).44 The substantial growth rate of child welfare services costs is magnified when one considers that such costs have nearly quadrupled since fiscal year 1981-82.45
In projecting caseload and placement costs to the future, the 1990 study, "10 Reasons to Invest in the Families of California," concluded that, "[i]n the absence of an investment in strategies which keep families safely together and prevent the need for out-of-home care, by 1994 California's foster care caseload will grow to 90,000 children and costs will double to $1. 8 billion."46SUP> It is interesting to note, however, that these projections, which were made in 1990, included caseload estimates that were lower than actual figures. For example, the report's projection for caseload in fiscal year 1990-91 was 62,800;47 actual caseload for that year was 81,064.48 Thus, the report's projections actually may be understated and the future costs of out-of-home placements could be even higher than previously thought.
|Despite rhetoric about family preservation and
reunification, children are spending more time in foster
care after they are removed from their homes.
The 1990 study, "10 Reasons to Invest in the Families of California," revealed that children entering foster care in January 1988 left care more slowly than children entering in January 1985. For each 100 children entering foster care, 40 of the children entering in 1988 were still in care 18 months later, as compared to 28 of the children who entered in 1985. Over the three-year period, there was a 42.9 percent increase in the proportion of children who remained in foster care at the end of 18 months.49
More recent statistics also indicate an increase in the length of stay for children in foster care. A review of the children who have left the foster care system revealed that the percentage of children in foster care 18 months or longer increased between fiscal years 1988-89 and 1991-92. Table 1 shows the length of stay for children exiting the foster care system.
Percent of Children Leaving Foster Care
|Fiscal Year||Fiscal Year||Fiscal Year||Fiscal Year|
|27. 5%||28. 7%||29. 6%||30. 8%|
* Note: Figure for fiscal year 1991-92 is estimated based on data for 12 months ending
As shown in Table 1, of the children who left the foster
care system in fiscal year 1988-89, 27.5 percent had been in
the system longer than 18 months; an estimated 30.8 percent
of the children leaving foster care in fiscal year 1991-92 will
have stayed in the system 18 months or longer.50
In further reviewing the data, it was also revealed that an estimated 13.4 percent of the children leaving foster care during fiscal year 1991-92 will have been in the system longer than three years, compared to only 10.8 percent of the children who left during fiscal year 1988-89.51
Another indication that children are not being returned to their natural homes comes from the caseload statistics for the Permanent Placement component of the Child Welfare Services Program. State law requires county social service agencies to find permanent alternative homes (through adoption, guardianship or permanent foster care) for children who cannot return to their parents after 18 months of reunification efforts. Thus, an increase in the Permanent Placement caseload would be the result of a growing proportion of children who remain in foster care at the end of 18 months. In fact, between fiscal years 1985-86 and 1989-90 there was a sharp increase in the number of children needing alternative homes; Permanent Placement caseloads increased approximately 148 percent during the period (from 14,300 cases to 35,400 cases).52 That upward trend has continued, as the estimated caseload for the Permanent Placement program in fiscal year 1991-92 is 41,756, which represents an increase of 18 percent.53
Unfortunately, the number of adoptive placements grew only at a slightly higher rate (19.5 percent) between fiscal years 1988-89 to 1991-92 (from 3113 placements to 3721 placements). Thus, very large numbers of children continue to languish in foster care, uncertain about their future.
In contrast to the increase in the Permanent Placement caseload, there has been a decrease in the caseload for the Family Maintenance program, which has the primary goal of allowing children to remain with their families under safe conditions (thereby eliminating unnecessary placement in foster care). Between fiscal years 1985-86 and 1989-90, the Family Maintenance caseload declined from 31,600 to 29,800 (a 5.7 percent decrease).54 The caseload continues to decline; in fiscal year 1991-92, the Family Maintenance program will serve an estimated 27,036 (which represents an additional drop of 9.3 percent).55
The following statement in the report, "10 Reasons to Invest in the Families of California," is as applicable today as it was in 1990:
Tragically, the absence of a serious, proactive investment in "front-end" placement prevention and family preservation strategies has led to the increase in Permanent Placement and foster care caseloads. Until a serious investment in these front-end services is made, out-of-home care caseloads will continue to grow and more and more children will be denied the opportunity to grow within their natural families.56
Bleak Future for
|Once a child's term in foster care is completed, his or
her life does not necessarily take a turn for the better.
Whether it is the effects of the foster care system itself
or the predisposition of the children who enter it, many of those
who leave foster care are destined for less-than-desirable
For example, a recent nationwide study of runaway youths has found that more than a third of the youths had been in foster care in the year before they took to the streets. In California, the percentage was even higher, topping the nation with 45 percent of the youths saying they had been in foster care in the preceding 12 months. This situation should be viewed as gravely serious given that runaways who become street kids are subject to a wide variety of medical problems and health-compromising behaviors, including suicide, depression, prostitution and substance abuse.57
In addition, a recent study of foster care graduates in California shows that many are poorly educated and cannot afford adequate housing. They suffer from chronic illnesses and drug and alcohol abuse, and are more likely to run afoul of the law. Other studies confirm that disproportionate numbers of children who stumble through foster care tend to end up on the streets or in prison.58
|One of the reasons that family preservation has not
become the norm is that out-of-home placements have
become a tradition that is hard to break. Over the
years, child welfare reform has been focused around removal
first, then reunification. To change this philosophy has been
difficult, to say the least. An apt description of the attempts to
change was given at the Commission's November hearing by
the assistant general manager of the San Francisco Department
of Social Services:
As a consequence of relying on the traditional system of foster care, funding has not been primarily targeted at family preservation. One perspective on this occurrence is presented in a 1991 report by the National Commission on Family Foster Care:
The same can be said of funding patterns in California. For example, in fiscal year 1988-89, the State spent nearly $10 on out-of-home placement and related casework costs for every $1 spent on services to keep children and their families together.61 With the advent of family preservation programs in additional counties, more funds are being directed to keeping children in their homes; but, as shown earlier, funding of out-of-home placements continue to increase at startling rates.
While the overall costs of out-of-home placement have continued to increase, it is the cost of group homes that stands out. On the following page, Figure 4 displays the annual costs of placing children in group homes for fiscal year 1988-89 through 1992-93.
As exhibited in Figure 4, the cost of out-of-home placement in group homes has escalated from $323,141 in fiscal year 1988-89 to a budgeted $522,685 in fiscal year 1992-93, an increase of $199,544 (61.8 percent).62 (The decrease in costs in fiscal year 1991-92 is due to a freeze in group home rates. )
During this same period, the cost of placing children in foster family homes rose only $128,926 (from $220,649 to $349,575), a 58.4 percent increase.63 However, the cost of group homes represents nearly 60 percent of basic caseload and grants costs for all out-of-home placements. Therefore, the increase in the cost of group homes is a major factor in the increase in the cost of placements.64
Another way to view the high cost of group homes is to compare it against the cost of other types of out-of-home placements. On the next page, Figure 5 shows such a comparison in terms of the annual cost per child residing in out-of-home placement.
Note:Figures represent most recent information available from various sources and may not necessarily
be reflective of the same period. For example, the costs of foster family homes and group homes
are for calendar year 1991; the other facilities are for fiscal year 1991-92.
|Generally, it is best for children to remain with their
natural families and, thus, it is most appropriate for
government to invest in "front-end" services that work
at removing the problems from families rather than removing
the children. To date, however, California has not provided
such an investment and, instead, has continued to rely on out-of-home placements. As a result, the numbers of children
removed from their homes and the associated costs have
spiraled upward. Further, children are staying in the system
longer once they are removed from their homes.
Training, support services, screening and rates of reimbursement are woefully inadequate for the State's foster parents.
|Individuals who elect to be foster parents have a critical need for comprehensive training to develop the skills
necessary to cope with today's troubled foster children and
youths. In addition, prospective foster parents should be
evaluated for their suitability for the task at hand. Further,
foster parents should be adequately compensated for the
responsibility of parenting these victims of abuse and neglect.
Because of a lack of sufficient training for foster parents,
however, foster children and youths do not receive even the
minimal necessities, such as the nurturing and guidance they
need to overcome their disadvantages and become productive,
law-abiding adults. Even worse, they may be exposed to
potentially abusive situations. Moreover, the lack of adequate
training, support services and compensation results in a
shortage of qualified foster parents in the State and a
consequent reliance on more costly types of placement facilities.
|The volumes of literature available on the subject of
effective parenting enumerate the myriad skills
necessary to successfully guide any "ordinary" child
through his or her development into a well-adjusted adult. By
definition, foster children have problems not experienced by
"ordinary" children who have not suffered abuse or neglect.
The trauma associated with being abused or neglected usually
manifests itself in physical, emotional, psychological and/or
developmental impairment. Thus, it stands to reason that
effective parenting of foster children requires even greater skill
than for "ordinary" children.
Despite this logic, historically there has been an assumption that foster parents do not require special skills. Only in recent years has there been a gradual shift in what is expected of foster parents; foster parents have evolved from merely being a substitute parent to playing a major role in the treatment support of very troubled children and youths and for supporting the goals of permanency planning.
Since the passage of Chapter 978 (SB 14, Presley) in 1982, the population of children who remain in foster care has changed dramatically. Children who are the most severely abused or neglected -- thus, those who exhibit the most serious physical, emotional, psychological and/or developmental damage -- are the children least likely to be candidates for family reunification or to be adopted. Instead, these are the children most likely to become permanent foster care or group home placements.
Moreover, the demands placed on foster parents have escalated given that the types of children entering the foster care system today are more "damaged" than children who have entered the system in the past. The Commission received substantial testimony at both of its public hearings asserting the deterioration of the emotional, behavioral, developmental, physical and psychological condition of children and youths entering foster care. For example, an assistant general manager at the San Francisco Department of Social Services attested, "The challenges facing foster parents have changed dramatically in the 18 years I have been a child welfare professional. Due to a variety of systemic ills such as unemployment, substance abuse and the lack of affordable housing, children are coming to foster care in record numbers with increasingly severe problems.77 "This conviction was echoed by a deputy director at the State Department of Social Services who stated:
In addition, many of the documents reviewed during the course of this study's fieldwork commented on the increasing instability of those entering the foster care system. Consider the declaration of the National Commission on Family Foster Care:
Drugs Are A
|As can be seen from the above quotations, the increase
in substance abuse in our society often is named as
the culprit for this condition. The percentage of foster
care cases that are drug-related is astronomically high. At the
Commission's November 20 hearing, the assistant general
manager of the San Francisco Department of Social Services
testified, "Eighty percent of these children are in foster care
because of parental substance abuse and many of them have
complex physical, emotional and developmental problems due
to substance exposure in utero."One juvenile court judge from
San Diego testified at the Commission's January 22 hearing that
90 percent of the cases that come before her are involved with
drugs. She went on further to state that substance abuse was
not an ethnic minority problem and that the cases that come
before her "are roughly mirroring the community."80 At the
same hearing, the director of the Los Angeles County
Department of Children's Services stated that the number of
children in his county's foster care system has swelled mostly
because "crack cocaine came ripping into this community like
wildfire."He went on to indicate that drugs are a problem in
four out of five families whose children are in foster care.81
The State's statistics on the reasons for removing children from their homes corroborate the concern that substance abuse has become an increasing problem. Endangerment resulting from parental neglect, incapacity or absence are the principal findings used by the juvenile court to place children in foster care when a parent with a drug problem cannot provide appropriate care and supervision.82 For the foster children supervised by county welfare departments, (rather than county probation departments, which would not be reflective of substance abuse problems with families), these types of endangerment also are the primary reasons the children have been removed from their homes. Below, Figure 7 provides a comparison of the numbers of welfare department-supervised children, by specific reason for removal, for the fiscal years 1984-84, 1988-89 and 1991-92.
Note: Figures represent average monthly number of children in foster care.
Outcomes for Drug-Exposed Infants - Fiscal Year 1988-89
Due to Positive
Placed in Out-
Note: Only 34 counties reported detail on referrals, only 29 counties reported on juvenile court actions,
and only 26 counties reported on placement outcomes (for 2,783 cases).
| As shown in Table 2, in 86 percent of the 3,685 cases
in which dependency petitions were filed by counties, the child
was declared a dependent of the court. Further, of the 2,783
cases for which information was provided by 26 counties, 68
percent resulted in the child being placed in out-of-home care.87
As further evidence of the growing problem of drug-exposed babies, the advocacy group Children Now reported in 1991 that experts estimate that between 72,000 and 85,000 babies are born exposed to drugs or alcohol in California-- between 13 percent and 15 percent of babies born each year. The report adds that public hospitals in Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco report between 10 percent and 25 percent of births show positive urine toxicology screens for illicit substances, and that survey information from throughout the State shows that the problem is increasing.88 At the Commission's January hearing, the director of Los Angeles County's Department of Children's Services confirmed this report, stating, "We have indications that 10 percent of the babies born in Los Angeles are drug-addicted."89
But drug-exposed babies are only one part of the new wave of problem-plagued children and youths entering the foster care system. Consider the following case examples of recent removals that are unlikely to have occurred 20 years ago:
To Gain Skills,
|It is painfully clear that children entering the system today require skilled care from foster parents. No longer does
foster parenting require only maternal or paternal instincts
and having one's heart in the right place. Effective foster
parenting now requires that foster parents be capable, multi-skilled and able to perform a number of different functions.
One social worker explains the requirements of foster parenting:
Obviously, the types of skills and knowledge required of foster parents are not inborn; nor are they likely to be attained based on "regular" parenting experience. Rather, the specialized skills needed to deal with the troubled foster children of today can only be acquired through training.
The types of training needed by foster parents begins with basic information on the goals and activities of foster care services and the rules, regulations, policies and expectations of the county agency supervising the foster children. Other prerequisites that are basic to effective foster parenting include: understanding of human behavior; familiarity with normal and exceptional child development; and practical parenting and behavior management skills.94 Further, the training may be "pre-service," (before the licensure of a foster parent), or "in-service," usually on an annual basis.
In testimony delivered at the Commission's January hearing, one foster parent told of how she had been invited to take training and how, once she received the training, she could not understand why she had not been required to take it. She further spoke of some of the issues covered in her training in which she had no previous education and which she felt should have to be addressed as prerequisites to becoming a foster parent, such as: abandonment, loss and grief on the part of the foster child; discipline; and birth parents and reunification.95
The director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services went one step further: He not only recommended that training be required as a prerequisite to the licensure of foster parents, he suggested that there be psychological testing for potential foster parents prior to licensure so as to identify foster parents particularly vulnerable to the stresses of foster parenting.96
At both of the Commission's public hearings, every witness who testified regarding training for foster parents indicated that more training was necessary. Included in this group was the president of the California State Foster Parent Association, who stated:
|Despite the obvious need for training, there are no state statutory or regulatory requirements for the training of
foster parents in California. In fact, according to the
most recent (1988) national survey conducted by the National
Foster Parent Association on training, California was one of only
five states that reported not having statewide pre-service
training either on a voluntary or mandatory basis. Of the 34
responding states, 25 provided statewide mandatory pre-service
training for prospective foster parents; 4 states provided training
on a voluntary basis. In the 25 states where pre-service
training is mandated, the required number of training hours
averaged 14. 8, ranging from 6 hours to 30 hours.98
In the same survey, California was not among either the 14 states that reported providing mandatory in-service training for foster parents, or the 12 states that reported providing voluntary training.99
Instead of statewide training in California, training may be required at the county level. A total of 38 counties require pre-service training prior to licensure, and 28 of those counties also require in-service training as a condition of continued licensure. Twenty counties, including Los Angeles, do not require foster parent training of any kind. Table 3 shows the amount of hours required by counties in both pre-service and in-service training.
Amount of Foster Parent Training Required by Counties
|Number of Hours Required by Counties|
|None||1-3||4-6||7-9||10-12||13-16||17-20||21-24||25 or more|
Note: Figures are subject to consistency and accuracy of data reported by counties.
| As shown in Table 3, of the 38 counties that mandate
pre-service training, only 6 require more than 12 hours of such
training. Further, of the 28 counties that mandate in-service
training, only 12 require more than 12 hours of such training.
To put the amount of county-required training into statewide perspective:
To give an idea as to how much training should be required, the coordinator for foster parent training at one California community college recommended that foster parents receive 30 hours of pre-service training and 30 hours of in-service training annually.100
Thus, based on the lack of statewide training mandates and the relatively few hours of training, if any, required by the vast majority of counties, it is fair to say that foster parent training has not received a high priority in California. This conclusion is drawn despite the obvious need for such training.
|Another area that cries out for greater attention is the
screening of prospective foster parents. The only
statutory or regulatory requirements related to the
qualifications of foster parents are that foster parents cannot
have criminal records; they must have enough income to meet
their own needs; they must be over 18 years of age; they must
pass a health screening; and they must have no substantiated
allegation of child abuse on file.101 In determining whether an
individual is qualified to be a foster parent, there are no criteria
regarding the individual's parenting abilities or experience,
behavior management skills, or suitability for the provision of
the care, nurturing and guidance needed by foster children and
youths. Likewise, there are no standards for an individual's
psychological well-being and emotional stability, including
vulnerability to stress.
Instead, as some children's advocates say, "the state pays too much attention to the physical conditions of the homes, and not enough on whether the parents are emotionally capable of raising children who often have psychological problems."102 "They are not looking at what the foster parents know and what kind of people they are," said the executive director of the Association of Children's Services Agencies. "They look at, `Do we have an extra bed?' and that kind of thing."103
|As indicated earlier, foster parenting is not the same as
parenting one's own children. Given that today's foster
children and youths exhibit much higher rates of
physical and emotional illness and developmental and emotional
problems than non-placed children of the same age,104 it is no
surprise that foster parents endure a greater amount of stress
than what is generally experienced by "ordinary" parents. Thus,
foster parents need certain support services if they are going to
succeed at being effective foster parents.
Among the services needed are support and consultation from skilled social workers, respite care, day care, and immediate response to crisis situations.105 In addition, foster parents who provide treatment or specialized foster care need weekly and sometimes daily consultation with qualified social work staff, professional development, and partnership in problem-solving and evaluation as part of an interdisciplinary team.106 Further, because of the stress involved with the job, support groups are needed for all foster parents.
Unfortunately, according to a number of the witnesses that testified at the Commission's public hearings, such necessary support is not routinely available to foster parents. And, as is often the case regarding other aspects of the foster care system, limited resources and overburdened social workers are cited as the cause.
The lack of adequate support services is particularly evident when relatives are used as foster parents. And the use of relatives as foster parents is not an infrequent occurrence. When out-of-home placement of a child is required because of abuse or neglect, state law directs that the first priority for placement shall be with a relative of the child, so long as such placement is in the best interests of the child.107
Not surprisingly, after the enactment of the law, placements with relatives increased dramatically. The 1990 study, "10 Reasons to Invest in the Families of California," states that "[a] comparison of the location of placements in 1985 and 1989 indicates that county social service agencies are substantially pursuing this policy goal. While total out-of-home placements increased 81.4 percent during this time period, placements in the home of a relative/guardian increased over 200 percent."108
Recent data indicate that county welfare departments continue to make placement with a relative the first priority. On the following page, Figure 8 displays the types of placements made by county welfare departments during calendar year 1991.
As Figure 8 illustrates, 43.2 percent of the placements made by county welfare departments during calendar year 1991 were with relatives of the children being placed.109 Relative placements represent an increasing proportion of all placements when compared to: fiscal year 1984-85, when placements with relatives constituted only 27.1 percent of all placements;110 and fiscal year 1988-89, when such placements made up 39.9 percent of all placements.
Maintaining the ties of children with their families through placement in a relative's home should be pursued as part of a broader effort to promote extended-family preservation. Like non-related foster parents, extended families that care for related children play an important role in the family reunification effort and they need training and agency support services to assist them with that role.111 But training and support services are even more scarce when it comes to relative foster parents. Often, the limited services that are extended to non-relative foster parents are not available at all to relative foster parents.
Reasons for Lack
|Of the reasons for the inadequacy of training and
support services for foster parents, costliness is
paramount. The establishment of a statewide program
for pre-service and in-service training would be a costly
undertaking, indeed. As an indication of the potential cost,
training for prospective adoptive parents in Los Angeles County
runs about $3,000 per person. On a statewide basis, such
costs for pre-service foster parent training would appear
substantial. In attempting to obtain more funding, the State
Department of Social Services estimated that it would cost $17
million to provide training statewide.112
Such costs, however, pale by comparison to the consequences of ill-trained or untrained foster parents. As the director of Los Angeles County's Department of Children's Services said, "You start to project that [training cost] to a statewide basis and it is pretty significant. But on the other side of the coin, taking risks with children is intolerable and if this can minimize the risk, I think it is well worth it."113
Also, the costs of such an endeavor could be mitigated, in large part, by taking maximum advantage of federal funds that are available for training foster parents. Title IV-E of the federal Social Security Act is a program that provides federal cost-sharing for, among other things, training and administrative costs associated with managing child welfare activities. By participating in the program, counties can get federal matching funds to cover 75 percent of their training costs. For example, the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services uses Title IV-E matching funds to contract with a consortium of three universities' Schools of Social Work to provide core and enrichment training programs for the department's social workers.114
There is concern, however, that not all counties are making full use of this opportunity. Further, it is not clear to what extent the State has provided counties the direction to take maximum advantage of federal funding. In fact, the California Legislature recently passed legislation (AB 840, Hannigan) that, among other things, would have required the State Department of Social Services to seek the maximum federal reimbursement possible for services provided under the AFDC foster care program and Child Welfare Services Program, and required the Health and Welfare Agency to explore ways to maximize federal funding for these programs. The Governor, however, vetoed the bill, stating in his veto message: "Because of the well-recognized fiscal exigencies, the [Health and Welfare] Agency and its departments are already aggressively maximizing federal financial participation for all federal programs. Allocating staff to research, study, and make recommendations to the Legislature would only redirect resources from other important program priorities."
Another concern contributing to counties' unwillingness to require more training is that fewer people will want to become foster parents. Additional requirements could be perceived as more burdensome "red tape," a disincentive to potential foster parents. Addressing this concern at the Commission's January hearing, the president of the California State Foster Parent Association indicated that the concern is unwarranted and that the benefits outweigh the costs, stating:
A downside to mandating a substantial number of hours of pre-service training was experienced in one county. San Francisco previously required 30 hours of pre-service training as a prerequisite to licensure. At one point, however, the county also was implementing a major effort to recruit more ethnic minority foster parents. What the city and county found was that the length of time it took to train the prospective foster parents "logjammed" the process of making more foster parents available to take placements. To remedy the situation, San Francisco reduced its pre-service training requirement to 20 hours.
Regardless of the cause for inadequate training and support services for foster parents, the need for the training and services is so great that the consequences of "doing without" are enormous.
High Price to
|Effective parenting is difficult enough to achieve even
when children and youths have not been abused or
neglected. Without proper training, foster parents are
ill-equipped to deal with today's troubled children and youths.
In regard to the foster parents, the adverse effects are found in
high rates of attrition. Frustration, burnout, and abandoning
one's role as a foster parent occur more frequently when foster
parents are repeatedly required to perform tasks and assume
responsibilities that are (or are perceived to be) beyond their
But it is the effect on foster children that is of even greater concern. At a minimum, the children and youths are not getting the appropriate guidance needed to overcome the circumstances that landed them in foster care. In the most severe cases, the stress felt by foster parents who cannot handle troubled children results in the parents' taking out their frustrations on the children. This was the apparent reason for the following tragedies:
In testimony at the Commission's January public hearing, the vice president of the Los Angeles County Foster Parents Association stated that abuse occurs in foster homes where parents are not trained and do not know how to deal with the foster children's issues.120
As a result of not screening prospective foster parents, there is a greater likelihood that unqualified individuals will be caring for abused and neglected children. Consider the tale related by a former foster youth, who, at the age of 14, was forced by his foster father at gunpoint to have sex with his foster mother. The foster father beat him and other children in the home; the foster mother punished bad behavior by dipping the wrongdoer's fingertips in scalding water."They need to screen places a lot better," said the former foster youth, who now lives in a downtown residential hotel.121
Some would argue that such horror stories occur in only a minority of cases which command significant publicity. In fact, a State Department of Social Services official testified at the Commission's November public hearing that problems occur only in an estimated 10 percent of the State-licensed facilities in California and speculated that a similar percentage of foster family homes have problems.122 Even if 10 percent strikes some as being rather low, the lives and well-being of the children and youths in those "problem homes" dictate that any percentage greater than zero is far too material to be ignored.
|Given the difficulty of dealing with today's troubled children and youths, it is only fair to adequately reimburse foster parents for the costs they incur. The reimbursement paid by the State to foster parents, however, does not cover food and other basics it is intended to cover. For example, Table 4 displays the State's current reimbursement rates:|
Statewide Basic Rates for Foster Care Effective Since July 1990
|Basic Monthly Rate||$345||$375||$400||$444||$484|
Source:Foster Care Program Bureau, State Department of Social Services
|As seen in Table 4, the current reimbursement rate for
a preschooler is $345 per month, and for a primary-grade child
is $375. According to a 1990 California Senate Office of
Research report, however, these reimbursement rates fall short
of the cost for raising a child. The report quotes an Urban
Institute economist who estimated that middle- and lower-income parents spend between $464 and $625 per month for
each of two children and between $391 and $510 per month on
each child if they have three children.123 The report also cited
a U. S. Department of Agriculture estimate that the cost of
raising urban, primary-grade children in the western states in
June of 1989 was $496 per month (not including medical costs,
which are supposed to be covered by Medi-Cal for a foster
child).124 Clearly, the State's reimbursement rates do not meet
even the basic costs of raising a typical child, much less a child
that may have experienced trauma after being removed from his
or her home and family.
As a point of interest, California's reimbursement rates, as inadequate as they may be, compare favorably with the national average. In 1989, the national average monthly foster care reimbursement rate was only $268 for children at or near age two; $292 for children at or near age nine; and $338 for youths at or near age 16.125 Until 1990, comparable rates in California for the same ages were $294, $340 and $412, respectively.126
The inadequacy of the reimbursement rates becomes even more acute in regard to foster parents who are relativesof the foster children under their care. As indicated earlier, placement with relatives is increasing in accordance with state law. These foster parents, however, may receive basic rate reimbursement only to the extent that the children are eligible for federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children -Foster Care (AFDC-FC, which is a program that provides money for needy children in foster care). Otherwise, as is usually the case, the relative foster parents may receive only a lesser state AFDC-Family Group (AFDC-FG) payment.
The issue of discrimination against foster parents who are relatives is a national one. Pending federal legislation, if enacted, would make all foster children federally eligible. Until such a measure passes, relative foster parents are receiving substantially less than their non-relative counterparts. Forexample, in a state that pays a foster care rate of $371 per month for a child under five, the monthly AFDC rate for that same child is $109. In a year, a non-relative providing care or one who adopts with a subsidy can receive $4,737; a mother on AFDC or a relative care giver with a guardianship arrangement for that same child would receive only $1,308 to help in raising the child.127
Certainly, an increase in the State's reimbursement rates would be costly. The State Department of Social Services estimates that for every increase of $100 in the reimbursement rates, the total costs of the reimbursement program would grow by more than $50 million.128
Under a plan envisioned by the California Senate Office of Research in 1990, however, the State could actually save money by increasing the reimbursement rates. The Senate Office of Research recommended establishing a new category of "professional foster parent" that would include the following aspects:
The goals of such an approach are several: to place the youngest dependent children in homes instead of institutions, to develop a cadre of foster parents with expertise in raising infants at risk of developmental disabilities or health problems, and to focus government's resources on improving the qualities of the care giver rather than maintaining organizational structure of the agency.130
Now consider that there are increasing numbers of infants and young children at high risk of disabling health problems, and that, because there is a general shortage of foster parents to care for these children, group homes have been used more frequently. In calendar year 1985, 274 children under the age of four were placed in group homes; in calendar year 1991, that figure soared to 1,156 -- an increase of nearly 322 percent.
With group home rates averaging more than $2,700 per month for these infants and young children -- with some as high as $5,013 per month -- if even one-third were placed with professional foster parents, California will have taken a step forward in care and in cost savings.131
San Francisco has a model program based on the criteria of the professional foster parent. The city and county licenses "therapeutic foster homes" in which severely emotionally disturbed children reside and the foster parents, who have experience and education in child development, are paid up to $2,059 per month more than the base rate for regular foster parents.132
Current law expresses legislative intent to increase General Fund support for such specialized family homes by five percent in the current fiscal year. Specifically, Chapter 1294/89 states the funds should be used to:
The Department of Social Services estimates that it would cost $12. 7 million from the General Fund to support these activities in 1991-92. To the extent that these activities are effective at increasing the number of children placed in foster family homes, rather than in more expensive group homes, these activities could have resulted in net savings to the foster care program in 1991-92. The Governor's budget, however, did not include funding for these programs.133
Another concept to consider as an alternative to the present system is one of changing the role of county welfare departments to be more like a foster family agency -- to be responsible for recruiting, certifying (licensing), training, and providing professional support to foster parents. This role should not be unfamiliar to the welfare departments since it was their role before they gave up those responsibilities to foster family agencies. The counties relinquished that role in an effort to fill a void in service delivery; the counties were having difficulty finding a sufficient number of foster family homes that would take children and youth difficult to care for because the counties were not providing sufficient support services, yet to place those children and youth in group homes was prohibitively expensive.
Under this approach, counties would receive the rates now paid to foster family agencies, which are several times the statewide basic foster care rates. The counties should be able to fulfill the above-mentioned responsibilities efficiently because they already have an administrative structure in place. Such efficiencies should allow a higher payment to the foster homes, and the higher payments would attract the educated, qualified foster parents needed.
Another concern about increasing the basic rates for foster care is expressed by those who believe that the current modest reimbursements help assure that a child will be welcomed into a family "for love, not money."134In testimony for the Commission's November public hearing, the State Department of Social Services warned that consideration should be given to the impact that increasing reimbursement rates would have on the motivation of some prospective foster parents: "Foster parents should be primarily motivated by a strong desire to provide safe, stable, and loving homes for abused children. We must avoid incentives to treat foster parenting as just a business."135(As an aside, the Commission notes that the concept of using foster family homes certified by foster family agencies very much treats foster parenting as a business; yet, this concept is embraced fully by the State. )
Others, such as the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services, dismiss this notion, believing, "If you want good quality foster parents, you have to pay them accordingly."136 Further, one school of thought suggests that increasing reimbursement rates would increase both the quality and the availability of foster parents by attracting qualified persons who might not otherwise be able to afford being foster parents. For example, such an increase would be attractive to educated, middle-income persons who feel a social responsibility to foster children but who cannot afford day care for the children while they work. Such a potential pool of foster parents, in which both parents work, should not be taken lightly. In 1990, 58 percent of mothers with children under age six were working or looking for work outside their homes. Further, 74 percent of women whose youngest child was between the ages of 6 and 13 were working or looking for paid work.137
As it is, however, the rate of reimbursement for foster parents can hardly be considered an attraction at all -- in fact, it is a disincentive. As indicated earlier, a paltry $345 per month is not enough to cover basic costs; it does not even begin to cover child care expenses, which can amount to $350 per month. Foster parents historically have subsidized the child welfare system through their volunteer time and out-of-pocket expenses for child care. The increasingly difficult role of the foster parent may no longer be attractive to and appropriate for the volunteer.138 In fact, numerous witnesses testifying at the Commission's public hearings decried the current rates of reimbursement.
|Without adequate reimbursement for foster parents, a
number of adverse effects occur, primarily resulting
in an insufficient pool of qualified foster parents and
an increased reliance on more costly types of placement
In a 1991 report, the National Commission on Family Foster Care states:
The lack of adequate reimbursement negatively affects foster parents' self-esteem and fails to afford them appropriate standing in the hierarchy of skilled jobs. It is a contradiction to entrust such lowly compensated individuals with the noble and critically important responsibility of parenting abused and neglected children. It is little wonder that high attrition rates have made recruitment of new homes a constant priority for supervising county agencies and foster family agencies alike.
|Although foster parents need training, support services
and adequate reimbursement, the provision of such is
lacking in California. Further, the State lacks a policy
to screen prospective foster parents for their suitability to parent
abused and neglected children. As a result, foster children are
exposed to potentially abusive situations and are not provided
the help needed to overcome their disadvantages. In addition,
high attrition occurs among foster parents, leading to an
insufficient supply of qualified foster homes and an increased
reliance on more costly types of placement facilities.
|More attention needs to be paid to the needs of ethnic minority children in foster care.|
|Even though state law requires that foster children be
placed with relatives or families of the same racial or
ethnic background to preserve the children's cultural
identities, the disproportionate share of some ethnic minority
children in foster care outnumbers the available "culturally
competent" placement settings. Possible causes for this
situation include racism and insufficient recruitment. In addition,
those ethnic minority children who are placed with relatives may
be at a disadvantage because of an inequitable reimbursement
|Chapter 1581, Statutes of 1990 (AB 548, Moore)
In only a few exceptional circumstances -- such as a request by the child's parent or parents, the extraordinary physical or emotional needs of the child, or the unavailability of suitable parents after a diligent search has been completed for families meeting the preference criteria -- can a child be placed in a setting not in accordance with the above preference criteria.141
The law's intent is clear: to the extent possible, transracial foster care placements must be minimized. The importance of raising children in an environment that is sensitive to their cultural needs is paramount.
Most Children in
|The condition that spawned this 1990 legislation still
exists today: the majority of the State's foster children
are ethnic minorities. Figure 9 displays the ethnic
breakdown of children in foster care during calendar year 1991.
As Figure 9 shows, ethnic minorities represent 65.1 percent of all children in foster care. The proportion of all foster children made up by ethnic minorities has been increasing, as can be seen in Figure 10, which shows such proportions for fiscal years 1988-89 through 1991-92.
As Figure 10 illustrates, the percentage of all children in out-of-home care that is composed of ethnic minorities has steadily increased. In fiscal year 1988-89, ethnic minority children represented 60.5 percent of all foster care children; this figure jumps to an estimated 65.1 percent for fiscal year 1991-92.142
The mere fact that ethnic minorities constitute a majority of foster care children points to the disproportionate representation of these ethnic groups in the population of abused and neglected children. On the following page, Figure 11 compares the percentage of foster care children who are ethnic minorities with the percentage of the general population of California's children who are ethnic minorities.
As can be seen in Figure 11, perhaps the most glaring disproportionate representation exists with African-American children, who, while constituting only 6.3 percent of the State's population of children, make up 40.1 percent of all children placed out of their homes.143
What makes this situation even more compelling is the apparent paucity of African-American foster family homes and group homes licensed in California. Although statistics on the ethnicity of licensed homes are scarce, the Commission received adequate anecdotal evidence to verify that there is not a sufficient number of available ethnic minority homes. Further, statistics relating to ethnicity of group home employees who work day-to-day with foster children corroborate the presumption that "culturally competent" placement settings are sparse. For example, a study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley indicated that the ratio of ethnic minority child care workers and social workers to foster children in group homes is lower for ethnic minorities than for whites.144 Thus, despite the intent of the law, there are many ethnic minority children being placed in homes that are not racially or ethnically compatible with the children.
|Some argue that this practice is the result of racism. In
1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers
called transracial placement of African-American children
"cultural genocide."145 More recent criticisms include testimony
submitted to the Commission by a representative of a group
home and the African American Foster-Group Home Association
indicating that there was a concerted effort by his county's
administration to ignore the law: "White staff finds this new law
very difficult to ignore; yet they do ignore it, trivialize it, or
pretend that they have always obeyed its spirit. Unfortunately,
this is not the case."
A consultant with the National Association of Black Social Workers echoed this concern, saying his association is receiving complaints that many California counties are making no effort to place children with families of their own race. "Black folks have a tradition of caring for their young. Most agencies have not made an effort to find them," he stated.146
For the State's part, however, the Department of Social Services did acknowledge the problem of a shortage of ethnic minority foster parents and attempted to address it by creating a Minority Home Recruitment Program. Until the Department recently eliminated state-level staff for the program, its features included:
Although the state-level staff have been eliminated, the "California's Waiting Children" television program and the Minority Adoption Exchange will continue with $574,000 in state funds to be used at the local level.147
County activities include local public relations programs, speakers bureaus, recruiting at community events and through community organizations such as churches, Parent/Teacher Associations and civic groups, and highly publicized fairs that attract prospective foster and adoptive parents.148
Still, one line of reasoning suggests that more recruitment is possible. Given that the population of African-Americans aged 18 years or greater numbers more than 1. 5 million in California,149 it would appear that there exists a large, mostly untapped pool of prospective foster parents. As with the population of any ethnicity, not each of the 1. 5 million can be considered a prospective parent; but certainly a sufficient number might be available to provide homes for that portion of the population of African-American foster children in need of "culturally competent" placement.
Without greater recruitment efforts, it is clear that many ethnic minority children will continue to grow up in an environment that does little to preserve their cultural identity. Also, it is critical to note that the importance of "culturally competent" placement applies to all ethnic minority children, not only to African-American children as exemplified in this finding.
|To provide a well-rounded perspective, the placement of
children only in families of the same race must be
viewed in the context of the children's total needs. If,
for example, an ethnic minority child requires particular services
not available in a placement of similar ethnicity, should the child
go without the needed services in favor of being placed in a
culturally appropriate environment?The law is clear in requiring
that the "best interests of the child" be fully considered.
Therefore, a transracial placement may be the best alternative,
once all things are considered.
State officials are concerned, however, about reported complaints from across the State that the law's intent for preferential placement in families of the same race as the child are being interpreted too strictly by some social workers. Thechief of the Adoptions Branch in the State Department of Social Services said some workers so strongly oppose transracial placements that they are interpreting the law as prohibiting them. The chief's interpretation is that the law only strengthens race as one factor in the placement decision, and he said that an advisory letter will be sent to clarify that such placements are not prohibited.150
Voicing additional concerns about the law are groups such as the National Coalition to End Racism in America's Child Care System, which fears that children are being denied homes because of the unavailability of homes of the same race. "Children do not deserve to be denied a family on the basis of race," the coalition's executive director said."How long do you want them to wait while they are traumatized by the very system that is supposed to come to their aid?"151
Similar laws nationwide have prompted much controversy and have resulted in custody battles, lawsuits and federal civil rights investigations, according to a Sacramento Bee newspaper article:
Lawsuits have been filed in several states seeking damages after children have been hurt because they were put into dangerous situations after foster homes were chosen solely on race.152
As with any law, legislative intent is important in the interpretation of the law. In its capacity as the statewide administrator of the Child Welfare Services Program, the State Department of Social Services carries the responsibility of ensuring that counties appropriately interpret the law regarding placement preference.
|To the degree that the intent of the law is carried out and ethnic minority foster children are placed in "culturally competent" settings, a large percentage of the children are placed with relatives. Table 5 displays, by ethnic category, the percentage of foster children placed with their relatives during calendar year 1991.|
Percentage of Foster Children Placed With Relatives Calendar Year 1991
|As % of all|
Note: The category "Other" is composed of Native American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Samoan, Hawaiian, Guamanian, Asian Indian,
Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, non-specific Asian, Pacific Islander, and other ethnic groups.
|As seen in Table 5, ethnic minority children are placed
with relatives a greater percentage of the time than are white
children. The highest percentage of relative placements occur
among African-American children, who are placed with relatives
49.2 percent of the time.
This placement pattern presents a unique problem, however, because, as presented in Finding #2, foster parents who care for relatives generally receive a smaller amount of reimbursement than do non-relative foster parents.
Legislative attempts to rectify the inequity of reimbursing relative foster parents have failed. The most recent attempt occurred in 1987 when AB 1221 (Areias) declared the legislative finding "that the current policy of disparate payments to relatives and nonrelatives is not in the best interests of the foster child." In general, the measure would have allowed relatives to receive the same benefits as non-relatives. AB 1221 was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by then-Governor George Deukmejian, who stated in his veto message that the current, lower reimbursement rates extended to relatives are "adequate to provide [the children's] basic needs and has served to mitigate financial problems of their relatives. Public funds available for foster care are limited and the higher benefits should be reserved to induce nonrelated persons to become foster parents."
Proponents of equal reimbursements decried the former Governor's veto. For example, in testimony submitted for the Commission's November hearing, an assistant general manager of the San Francisco Department of Social Services stated:
Just as the State is struggling financially, so are most California families. It is a cruel fantasy to believe that the average relative caretaker has the financial resources to meet the medical and emotional needs of children placed with them. Yes, the cost of extending foster care benefits to relatives is high; but the future costs of untreated medical, emotional, educational and developmental problems, while incalculable, are absolutely going to be higher.
It is important to realize that the inequitable rate structure affects not only the foster parent, but ultimately the foster children as well.
|Despite the statutory requirement that foster children be placed with relatives or families of the same racial or ethnic background, the disproportionate share of ethnic minority children in foster care, coupled with a scarcity of available ethnic minority homes, indicates that many ethnic minority children are in placements that do little to preserve the children's cultural identities. The reasons for this situation include racism and inadequate recruitment. In addition, ethnic minority children who are placed with relatives may be adversely affected because of an inequitable reimbursement rate structure.|
Finding #4The State's foster care system suffers from inadequate monitoring and oversight.
|Because of problems inherent in the foster care system,
there is a potential that children could languish in
intolerable situations when counties do not take
appropriate action against inadequate homes. These problems
include the counties' conflict of interest in performing both
licensing and placement functions, and the lack of an
independent reporting mechanism for complaints regarding the
system. Further, the State may not establish performance
standards in accordance with timelines set by law, and there
has been no bona fide longitudinal study of the foster care
system and its clients. These circumstances render the State's
decision makers uninformed regarding the effectiveness of the
foster care program.
State and County
|As stated in the introduction section of this report, the
foster care system in California is part of the Child
Welfare Services Program, which falls under the
authority of the State Department of Social Services
(Department) but is administered at the county level. In
general, the Department is responsible for ensuring that
counties properly administer the foster care program.
Among the specific responsibilities of the Department is the licensing of foster family homes and the investigation of complaints against foster parents, but the Department can contract with counties to perform these functions. In fact, as of December 16, 1991, the Department contracted with all but 12 of the 58 counties to perform the licensing functions.153
Counties, in turn, are responsible for determining in which foster family homes children should be placed and for monitoring the children, such as through periodic visits.
|In the 12 counties in which the licensing and placement
functions are split between the Department and the
counties, there is a system of "checks and balances."If
a problem arises in a foster family home, the Department
investigates the complaint. Unlike the county, the Department
does not rely on the home for the placement of children and,
thus, can act with a certain amount of independence.
In the vast majority of counties, however, it is the county welfare department that acts as both a placement agency and a licensing agency. A conflict of interest exists when, for example, a problem arises in a home that a county has come to rely on for the placement of children who are difficult to handle. On one hand, the county has the responsibility to fully investigate the problem in an unbiased manner and take action against the home, if warranted. On the other hand, the county has developed a relationship with the home that has benefitted the county. Such a relationship could impair the county's perspective as to the home's culpability and/or suitability for continued licensure in a situation that may be dangerous for the children who have been placed in the home.
Continuing with this scenario, if a problem did exist in the foster family home and the county did not take the appropriate action against the home, the State may not ever become aware of the problem. According to testimony given by the Department's chief counsel at the Commission's November hearing, the Department becomes aware of a problem in a home only if the county reports the problem to the Department.154 Under the above scenario, it is highly unlikely that the county would report to the State a situation that the county inappropriately ignored or dismissed.
Effects of System
|This lack of a reporting mechanism not only prevents the
Department from finding out about problems in foster
family homes, it also precludes a readily available
avenue of recourse for individuals who perceive a problem with
the foster care system. For example, at its November public
hearing, the Commission heard testimony from two families who
experienced problems with the foster homes in which their
natural children had been placed.
In one case, a 15-year-old girl had been voluntarily placed in a foster family home after her mother requested help from the county's welfare department. The mother had gone to the county because she and her daughter had experienced severe emotional problems as a result of the deaths of several close family members from cancer, and the sexual molestation of the girl by her stepfather. They both were grieving for their lost relatives and feeling stress while the stepfather was being prosecuted and a divorce was looming. When the daughter began acting out as a result of the molestation and other stress, the mother felt unable to handle her and asked the county to intervene.
The girl was placed in a home that took in emotionally troubled adolescent girls and remained there for three months. During that time, the mother and daughter claim, the girls in the home and the foster mother dressed in skimpy nightwear and posed for suggestive photographs, and the owners of the home frequently told explicit sexual jokes and made comments about their own and the girls' sex lives.
The home's owners subsequently were investigated by the county welfare department, sheriff's office and district attorney's office, but they were not prosecuted or disciplined. In addition, a county superior court judge held a hearing on the foster home and concluded that there had been no wrongdoing.
Since then, the mother and daughter have filed a $1. 8 million claim against the county and the owners of the home. Also, as a result of the information brought out in the Commission's public hearing, the State has launched an investigation into the matter. Further, the home's owners have relinquished their license.
In the second case presented at the Commission's November hearing, a father, mother and two daughters testified that the girls had been removed from their parents (and a younger brother) on allegations that the father had physically abused them. Although the girls eventually were returned to their natural home after the charges were determined to be unfounded, the family is pursuing legal recourse against the county because of the problems experienced by the girls while they were in out-of-home placement.
The 15-year-old daughter had been placed in the same foster home described in the preceding case, and the same problems were alleged to have occurred. The 14-year-old daughter was placed in a home certified by a foster family agency. While there, her father testified, the foster father sexually molested her one evening. Fearing for her safety, the girl escaped from the home and wandered back roads through the foggy night until she was picked up by a motorist and driven to the police station.
The ensuing investigations by the county welfare department, sheriff's office and district attorney's office resulted in the girl being removed from the home but no prosecution of the foster father.
Regardless of future determinations as to the veracity of the above-described cases, they both illuminate the lack of a readily available procedure by which individuals, such as the natural parents of foster children, can pursue situations that they perceive as problems.
As stated in Finding #2, the Department testified in the Commission's November public hearing that problems occur only in an estimated 10 percent of the State-licensed facilities in California and speculated that a similar percentage of foster family homes have problems. Not only does the Commission maintain that even 10 percent represents too great a number, but it believes the estimate may be understated given that it is based on the number of cases reported to the Department; such an estimate is a highly suspect figure given the lack of a good, unbiased reporting mechanism.
|To a point, an analogy can be drawn between the foster care system and the system that is in place to care for
California's elderly who reside in nursing homes or
residential care facilities. Both systems have the characteristic
of a vulnerable population placed out-of-home in facilities that
are monitored by government entities. The parallel ends,
however, with foster care's lack of a reporting mechanism for
concerned individuals who have a complaint against the system.
The elderly have a State Ombudsman whose office contracts
with independent agencies in the counties to receive and follow
up on complaints against facilities. The independent agency in
each county uses volunteers to perform the work needed to
resolve problems in facilities.
Such a system could work in foster care, as well, particularly since there already exists a network of volunteers in a highly successful program designed to advocate for children in court: the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program. The CASA program's goal is "to provide the child with a long-term, consistent and supportive relationship; to advocate for the child in the child welfare system; and to improve the quality of information presented to the juvenile court on behalf of the child."156 The advocates are trained volunteers who work one-on-one with foster children and become officers of the court in order to advise judges on their placements.157
There are approximately 1,500 volunteers working in 14 CASA programs throughout the State. Funding for the program can come from a variety of sources; for example, the $100,000 budget for the Sacramento program is being paid by the county, the State Judicial Commission, the Junior League of Sacramento, the Stuart Foundation and the Children's Trust Fund. An official with the National CASA Association said there are 452 programs operating in 48 states, and that studies have documented county savings and better service delivery to children. One study in Seattle found that the program saves the county about $2 million a year in attorney fees.158
A foster care ombudsman established in each county could work in conjunction with a CASA program in that county. Such a cooperative effort could result in improved service delivery not only to the children but to other interested parties, such as foster parents and natural parents.
Takeover of Los
|Irrespective of whether the State or the county perform the licensing function, an ombudsman program also could be
effective in assisting in monitoring counties' performance
of placement functions. One cannot help but consider the
effect such a program might have had concerning the
abominable situation that existed in Los Angeles County.
For several years, the Department had serious concerns about the administration of the Child Welfare Services Program and the delivery of program services to the children and families in Los Angeles County.159 According to the Department, repeated efforts to determine the causes of problems and implement solutions were frustrated by the assertion of the Los Angeles County Department of Children's Services (County) that inadequate funding was the sole problem and that, until funding reached adequate levels, no discussion of service delivery was appropriate.160
Beginning in October 1989 and finishing five months later, the Department conducted an audit to verify the County's claims of inadequate funding and found that:
The Department's audit found that of the 4,040 cases investigated, 1,462 cases (36 percent) were incorrectly reported.162 Examples of the incorrectly reported cases include:
The Department's audit findings resulted in a $7. 5 million net reduction of LA's 1990-91 budget allocation, which was reduced to a figure that was $30. 8 million less than what LA's allocation would have been if the DSS had accepted LA's claims of a caseload increase.164
Also during the course of the audit, the Department identified numerous instances in which the County failed to protect children in foster care from substandard conditions and physical and sexual abuse, including:
It also was during the period of the audit that the Department's legal division discovered a "secret room" containing 15 file cabinets holding approximately 3,000 case files on facilities that experienced problems but that were not referred to the Department for administrative action. After its discovery, the Department confiscated all of the files.167
In June 1990, the Health, Human Services and Labor Subcommittee of the Senate Budget & Fiscal Review Committee adopted language to reduce the County's allocation, and a joint Senate/Assembly hearing was conducted to investigate problems occurring in the County. Subsequently, budget language was enacted requiring the Department to determine the County's propriety and issue a formal statement of non-compliance if necessary.
The Department issued the formal statement of non-compliance and on October 1, 1990, the Department officially took over the licensing function of the County. Further, the County was required to submit a detailed corrective action plan for many of the placement problems previously identified by the Department.
The Department now is required to periodically report to the Legislature on the County's progress in implementing its corrective action plan. At the Little Hoover Commission's January 1992 public hearing on foster care, representatives from both the Department and the County testified that the County had made substantial improvements in correcting many of the problems identified during the Department's audit.168
One question repeatedly asked of the Department by Commissioners at the January public hearing was, "How can you be sure that similar situations do not exist in other counties throughout the State?"
As part of its responsibility for oversight of county program operations, the Department has implemented a review and corrective action process for the Child Welfare Services Program to determine the degree to which each county welfare department is in compliance with the most important statutory and regulatory requirements.169 The Department states that it is reviewing one fourth of the Child Welfare Services caseload annually, and that when a county is found to be out of compliance, the Department monitors the county's corrective action plan on a semiannual basis.170 The Department does acknowledge that, although this review process determines whether basic safety and due process standards are met, it does not evaluate the appropriateness of caseworker decisions, the quality of the services being offered or case outcomes.171
Given recent budget cuts and the chronic problem of insufficient staff for monitoring, it remains to be seen whether the Department's review process will be sufficient to ensure that a situation like Los Angeles County's does not occur elsewhere in the State. As it is, even when the Department determines that there is a serious problem in a county, it takes years to correct the problem, as evidenced by the protracted efforts to clean up Los Angeles County. The danger in such a prolonged period, of course, is that children could languish in unspeakable situations.
|As mentioned above, the Department's review process does not evaluate the effectiveness of a county's
program. This deficiency should change in the future,
though, as Chapter 1294, Statutes of 1989 (SB 370, Presley)
requires the Department to develop performance standards for
the Child Welfare Services Program by 1993. As the deadline
for the establishment of the standards looms closer, however,
there is concern whether the Department will be able to meet
the deadline. If such standards are not developed, the
effectiveness of each county's administration of the Child
Welfare Services Program will continue to go unassessed and
the State's decision makers will continue to operate without
knowing whether funds are being put to good use.
Also lacking is a bona fide longitudinal study of the foster care system and its effects on the children who have gone through it. Without such a study, the State is unable to determine the long-term effectiveness of the system and its ability to provide abused and neglected children the safety, stability, nurturing and guidance necessary for them to be able to grow up into productive, well-adjusted adult members of society.
Finding #5Counties lack sufficient interagency screening of children coming into the foster care system.
|Despite the foster care system's goal to protect abused and neglected children, a "re-abuse" of these children
occurs when counties lack sufficient interagency
coordination to protect the children from the trauma of being
shuffled from agency to agency for multiple screenings.
Counties that promote such coordination have more success in
mitigating further trauma to the children and reducing
duplication of effort.
|As explained earlier, one of the foster care system's
mandates is to protect children who have been
removed from their homes because of abuse or
neglect. Unfortunately, the very process of removal can be
traumatic; the events following a report of abuse can be
frightening, troubling and confusing for the child victims and
their families. The child may be subjected to a number of
investigatory interviews, displaced from familiar surroundings
and sometimes involved in court proceedings against the
Many counties have intake and processing procedures that can involve as many as 22 child welfare professionals, each of whom must interview and review a child's case separately.172 This extended process is not only duplicative, but it also can be very damaging to the welfare of the child and can result in great frustration and psychological damage as a child is forced to recall accounts of pain and suffering.
|To mitigate further trauma, some counties have designed
interagency programs and procedures to ensure that
abused and neglected children and their families receive
the assistance they need in a manner that avoids duplication of
effort, promotes more effective cooperation among staff serving
children and families, and promotes care of children in the least
restrictive settings. Some examples include:
San Francisco: Child Protection Center
One model of interagency screening can be found in San Francisco's Child Protection Center (CPC). The CPC is considered the gateway to the foster care system in San Francisco. Upon being removed from a family by either law enforcement officials or social workers, a child is brought to the CPC, located in San Francisco General Hospital, where a medical screening is performed and physical and mental health needs are assessed. Further, through the use of an automated data base, the CPC determines where the most appropriate placement is for that child according to his or her particular circumstances.
If the child brought to the CPC has been sexually abused, he or she is referred to the Child and Adolescent Sexual Abuse Resource Center (CASARC), which is located next to the CPC in San Francisco General Hospital. The CASARC utilizes a trained multi-disciplinary staff (through a 24-hour crisis intervention program) to provide prompt medical examination and treatment, to offer immediate psychological support, and to collect evidence for the court at the time the molestation is reported. Part of the evidence collection occurs during an initial interview, conducted by sexual abuse specialists, which is viewed through a two-way mirror by staff from the social services department, the district attorney's office and the police. In addition, the CASARC provides follow-up counseling for the child and family.173
Programs similar to the CASARC model exist in Orange County and Sacramento County.174
San Bernardino: The Children's Network
The San Bernardino County Children's Network coordinates the efforts of the various agencies serving children in the county. An interagency protocol specifies the responsibilities of and services offered by the Sheriff's Office, the Social Services, Probation, Public Health and Mental Health Departments, the schools and the agency serving developmentally disabled children. The Network agreement provides for the exchange of information to facilitate the provision of comprehensive services in the least restrictive environment to children at risk and their families. An annual conference promotes interagency communication and cross-training. The protocol states, "Services to children must be undertaken in a purposeful, coordinated, integrated, fair and cost-effective manner."175
Placer: The SMART Program
Placer County's Probation, Mental Health, Health and Medical Services, and Social Services Departments and the County Superior Court have established a Special Multi-Disciplinary Assessment and Referral Team (SMART). The program has four objectives:
Children referred to SMART are assigned to a lead agency for case management, but have their histories reviewed by the multi-agency Assessment and Referral Team for a determination of the service needs of the child and family.176
Orange: A School-Based Program of Mental Health Services
Orange County's system provides treatment to children with diverse mental health problems who are referred by police, hospitals, the County Social Services and Probation Departments and the schools. At the heart of the model is a school-based treatment program that integrates community volunteers, in-home supportive services, special education classrooms, and interagency coordination to form a comprehensive approach. The program is targeted to those severely disturbed minors who may require mental health services to benefit from special education and those who run the greatest risk of hospitalization or group home placement.177
The "Ventura Model" and the Comprehensive Children's Mental Health Services Act
Ventura County was the first county authorized to establish an interagency system of local mental health services for seriously emotionally disturbed minors at risk of out-of-home placement. The approach utilizes intensive family services as part of a comprehensive coordinated system of care for specific court wards and dependents with serious mental health treatment needs. Between 1985 and 1989, the number of children in group homes increased 58 percent statewide; in Ventura County it increased only 24 percent.
The Comprehensive Children's Mental Health Services Act established an interagency, comprehensive system of care for seriously emotionally disturbed children and youth. Building upon the concepts tested in Ventura County, the "system of care" is designed to coordinate mental health and other necessary services to meet the needs of severely emotionally disturbed children and their families. Keys to the "system of care" approach include developing and providing services that are less restrictive, more normative, culturally appropriate and individualized to the child and family. Case management is the hub of the system, including outreach and early intervention. Through collaborative planning, resource identification and case management, the mental health, educational, substance abuse, health, social services, developmental and vocational service agencies are brought together to meet the needs of each child. Programs are operating in Riverside, San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Ventura counties. While each county system has been organized to meet unique local conditions, each county has implemented outcome objectives to measure the impact of the services provided to each child.178
San Mateo: Human Services Agency
San Mateo County plans to achieve interagency screening through a departmental reorganization that would create a single Human Services Agency. The county's new program will consist of a 24-hour phone line and emergency response capability plus a multi-disciplinary assessment team composed of professionals with expertise in public health, mental health, child protective services, drug and alcohol services and special education. Among the county's anticipated benefits:
|To mitigate the re-abuse of children in the foster care
system, the State should support counties in their efforts
to establish systems of interagency coordination for the
screening of children coming into the system. One vehicle by
which the State could accomplish that was envisioned by the
Commission in 1987, when it recommended the establishment
of a Commission on Children and Youth or a Children's Czar.
The Czar would have been appointed by the Governor to
oversee and direct the activities in state government related to
services for children and youth.180
There currently exists an ideal opportunity to create the vehicle through which State leadership could be provided in the area of interagency coordination: State legislation (SB 479, Morgan) is pending that would establish the Child Development and Education Agency. At the direction of the Secretary for Child Development and Education, a position which was created by the Governor in 1991 through Executive Order W-1-91, this cabinet-level agency would transcend departmental boundaries to most effectively encourage interagency coordination at both the state and county government levels.
Without interagency screening and cooperation at the county level, children are traumatized twice: once by their situations at home and once by the system that supposedly is designed to protect them. Further, without interagencycoordination, a county's inefficiencies result in costly duplication of effort.
|When government intervenes and takes over the
responsibility of parenting children, it should be held
to the same standards as the children's parents.
That is to say, it is not enough for the State and counties
administering the foster care system to be responsible only for
the immediate safety and well-being of the children under their
charge; rather, these governmental bodies are accountable for
the growth and development of these children into productive,
well-adjusted adult members of society. It does not matter that
these victims of abuse and neglect came to the government at
a disadvantage; the success or failure of these children's lives
are the measurements by which the government should be
Without any good indication of the long-term effectiveness of the foster care system, it is not practical to assess the success of the system. But even in light of the system's short-term goals of eliminating the unnecessary removal of children from their homes and ensuring the safety of all children removed by necessity, the system has failed miserably.
The Commission finds that the State's foster care system runs contrary to the preservation of families by unnecessarily removing an increasing number of children from their homes each year. Moreover, the children in the foster care system are staying in the system longer. As a result, the State's costs continue to skyrocket and children continue to be harmed by the removal from their families.
To rectify these circumstances, the Commission recommends that, so long as the safety of children is not compromised, the State emphasize investment in less-expensive services that focus on removing the problems from dysfunctional families rather than removing the children.
The Commission also finds that training, screening, support services and rates of reimbursement are woefully inadequate for the State's foster parents. Because of the lack of comprehensive training needed to develop the foster parenting skills and the lack of accompanying support services, both of which are necessary to cope with today's very troubled foster children, the children do not receive the nurturing and guidance they need to overcome their disadvantages. Further, because prospective foster parents are not screened, children sometimes are placed in dangerous situations. In addition, the inadequate level of reimbursement results in a shortage of qualified foster parents.
As a remedy to these shortcomings in the foster care system, the Commission recommends that training be a prerequisite to licensure as a foster parent and that available federal funding be maximized for use in training foster parents. Further, to the extent that the State can reduce itsreliance on group homes and other more costly types of out-of-home placement, the State should increase the statewide basic care rates of reimbursement so as to adequately cover the costs of raising foster children.
Another finding of the Commission is that more attention needs to be paid to the needs of ethnic minority children in foster care. Even though state law requires that foster children be placed with relatives or families of the same racial or ethnic background to preserve the children's cultural identities, the disproportionate share of ethnic minority children in foster care outnumbers the available "culturally competent" placements. In addition, those ethnic minority children who are placed with relatives may be at a disadvantage because of an inequitable reimbursement rate structure.
To address these problems, the Commission recommends that the State Department of Social Services reinstate funding for its Minority Home Recruitment Program and work with counties to emphasize recruitment of ethnic minority foster parents. Also, the Department should monitor counties' administration of the foster care program to ensure the counties are making placements in accordance with the law.
The Commission further finds that the State's foster care system suffers from inadequate monitoring and oversight. Because of problems inherent in the foster care system -- such as the counties' conflict of interest in performing both licensing and placement functions, and the lack of an independent reporting mechanism for complaints regarding the system -- there is a potential that children could languish in intolerable situations because counties do not take actions against inadequate homes. Further, the State may not establish performance standards in accordance with timelines set by law. Furthermore, the State has not evaluated the long-term effects of the foster care system on children who have been through the system. Consequently, the State's decision makers are rendered uninformed as to the effectiveness of the foster care program.
What the Commission feels is needed in this instance is a foster care ombudsman program patterned after the ombudsman program for the elderly. As an added measure, the State Department of Social Services should not contract with counties to perform the licensing functions in the foster care system; instead, the Department should be solely responsible for those functions. In addition, the Department should complete the performance standards in accordance with the law, and a bona fide longitudinal study of California's foster care system and its clients should be conducted to determine the long-range effectiveness of the system.
Finally, the Commission finds that counties still lack sufficient interagency screening of children coming into the foster care system. Despite the foster care system's goal to protect abused and neglected children, a "re-abuse" of these children occurs when counties lack sufficient interagency coordination to protect the children from the trauma of being shuffled from agency to agency for multiple screenings. Counties that promote such coordination have more success in mitigating further trauma to the children.
To provide the vehicle through which State leadership could encourage interagency coordination, the Commission recommends that the Child Development and Education Agency be established. Further, the State should provide start-up funds for counties to establish systems that institute interagency coordination.
The Commission's findings in this report, as well as its 1987 report, point to one simple truth: All too often, California's Child Welfare Services Program simply does not fulfill the promises made by the reform legislation of the early 1980s. Specifically, unnecessary placement in foster care has not been reduced, the stability of foster care placements has not been increased, and the safety and best interests of children have not been ensured. To achieve these goals, emphasis will have to be placed on keeping families together and, when that cannot be accomplished, working to place children in environments that are most likely to benefit them in the long term. Only through these actions can government prevent the "re-abuse" of foster children.
Gwen Albert, Northern Regional V. P.
S. E. I. U. Local 535
Richard Barth, Ph. D.
Charlene Chase, Director
Dean Conklin, Executive Director
Mary Hayes, Director
Randall Feltman, Director
Dennis P. Handis
Thomas F. Kubasak
Ray Merz, Director|
Placer County Welfare Department
Marilee Monagan, Executive Officer
David Neves, Director
Sylvia Pizzini, Director
Tracy Russell, Director
Loren D. Suter, Deputy Director
Lesley D. Wimberly, President
Christopher Wu, Director
November 1991 and January 1992 Public Hearings on Foster Care
Michelle and T. J.
Marleen K. and daughter; Duane P. and daughters
Frances L. Munroe, Social Work Supervisor
Ann O'Rielly, Assistant General Manager
Don Hogner, Chief Probation Officer
Loren D. Suter, Deputy Director
Fred W. Miller
Lawrence B. Bolton, Deputy Director/Chief Counsel
Alfred C. Simmons, Co-Chair
Jennifer, Sonya and Jason
LaVerne Adolfo, President
Loren D. Suter, Deputy Director
G. Peter Digre, Director
Michael D. Bowman
Kevin M. Aslanian, Executive Director
Greg H. Wessels, Director
David C. Wesson, Assistant Executive Director
Elizabeth Kutzner, Judge
Cindy Hart, Training Coordinator/Foster Parent
Lupe Ross, Vice President
Zorah W. Snedden, President
John E. Crow
Gary Wilson, Manager
Robert C. Fellmeth, Executive Director
Related to Family Preservation Projects
Critics of studies that conclude family preservation projects result in lowering placement rates claim that the studies were conducted without control groups and that such high rates reflect basic flaws in the process by which children are classified as being at imminent risk of foster placement -- the primary requirement for referral. The critics further contend that 80 percent of children so classified are not even placed in foster care, with or without family preservation. A former chief of research and evaluation of the Children's Bureau of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that family preservation is effective in avoiding foster placement for half of the remaining 20 percent of children who truly are at high risk. This figure represents about 10 percent of all children referred.
In fact, there have been mixed results of studies that compared groups of families receiving family preservation services with control groups of families that did not receive family preservation services. One such study in 1987 showed only minimal differences in total number of placements between the two groups. The same study, however, also showed that adolescents from families receiving in-home services had shorter average length of care than did adolescents in the control group.182 One 1990 study showed no differences at all between a family preservation project group and a control group,183 while another 1990 study showed a family preservation project group having significantly higher success in reducing out-of-home placement of children.184
Another 1990 report, reviewing projects in California, showed no significant differences in placement rates between a family preservation project group and the comparison group for which no family preservation services were delivered. The report did point out, however, that although the expectation regarding a difference in placement rate was not met, the family preservation projects had several other important results, such as an improvement in families' ability to parent their children and to understand and address the problems confronting them. Other positive results included: an increase in social worker knowledge about the dynamics of multi-problem families; the provision of more detailed assessments of families, leading to better targeting of services; and the identification of certain barriers to service implementation.185
Some critics also maintain that studies showing great cost savings from family preservation projects did not use control groups and, therefore, do not prove the projects' cost savings. Once again, it is important to point out the results of the above-mentioned 1990 study that compared a control group to a group of California family preservation projects. In fact, the study showed little difference in overall placement costs for children placed from either group. The total placement costs for the family preservation projects group were only $4,013 less than the control group.186 The study did qualify its conclusions, however, by stating that the placement cost figures were for an eight-month period only, and that "[i]f the difference in the number of days in care (was) found to be reflective of actual days saved and not just days postponed, the type of placement utilized would affect the cost impact of such services."187 Further, the report acknowledged that ten of the children in the family preservation projects group were placed within three or less days of being referred and accepted into the group for study purposes; if these children were not included in the comparison of costs, the placement costs for children in the family preservation projects group would be an additional $19,499 less.188
Thus, it is fair to say that, at best, the studies including control groups have mixed results related to the performance of family preservation projects.
Removing Children from Their Homes
Sexual abuse - the victimization of a child by sexual activities. These activities include, but are not limited to, molestation, indecent exposure, fondling, rape and incest.
Physical abuse - a physical injury which is inflicted by other than accidental means on a child by a caretaker or other individual living at the same residence as the child. Physical abuse includes willful cruelty, unjustifiable punishment or corporal punishment, any of which result in injury to a child.
Severe neglect - the negligent failure of a person having the care or custody of a child to protect the child from severe malnutrition or medically diagnosed non-organic failure to thrive." Severe neglect" also means those situations of neglect where any person having the care or custody of a child willfully causes or allows the child to be placed in a situation where his/her person or health is endangered. This would include, but not be limited to, prenatal drug abuse causing a child to be born addicted or the intentional failure to provide necessary medical care, adequate food, clothing or shelter.
General neglect - the negligent failure of a person having the care or custody of a child to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter or supervision where no physical injury to the child has occurred.
Emotional abuse - nonphysical mistreatment, the results of which may be characterized by disturbed behavior on the part of the child, such as severe withdrawal, regression, bizarre behavior, hyperactivity or dangerous acting-out behavior. Emotional abuse includes willfully causing or permitting any child to suffer, inflicting mental suffering or endangering a child's emotional well-being.
Exploitation - the act of forcing or coercing a child into performing activities for the benefit of the caretaker that are beyond the child's capabilities or capacities or that are illegal or degrading. Includes forcing workloads on a child in or outside the home so as to interfere with the health, education and well-being of the child.
Caretaker absence or incapacity - the absence of the caretaker due to hospitalization, incarceration or death; incapacity of the caretaker to provide adequate care for the child due to physical or emotional illness, disabling condition or compulsive use of alcohol or narcotics.
Child's disability/handicap - the child has special care and/or supervision needs resulting from one or more of the following: developmental disability; mental/emotional disorder; learning disability; hearing, speech, or sight impairment; physical disability or handicap. These needs cannot be met by provision of services in the child's own home.
Relinquishment - the child has been relinquished for adoption by one or all parent(s) to a public or private adoption agency.
Disrupted adoptive placement - the child has been returned to the jurisdiction of a public or private adoption agency prior to finalization on an adoptive placement.
Voluntary placement - a signed voluntary agreement has been entered into by the parent(s)/guardian(s) of the child and the placement agency.
Status offense - the child exhibits out-of-control behavior as described in the Welfare and Institutions Code, Sections 601, 601.1 and 601.2.
Law violation - the child has violated a law as described in the Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 602.