Legislative Season 2015

Continuum of Care Reform: Working toward a financial support model that stabilizes placements and promotes permanency

Children housed in group homes are at greater risk of high school dropout, incarceration and eventual homelessness as compared to those raised in family settings. It is estimated that 3,000 youth have resided in California’s group homes for more than one year and approximately 1,000 of these young people have been in a group home for more than five years.

To decrease placement in groups homes where outcomes are so poor, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) convened a legislatively mandated (SB 1013) task force in 2012. The task force, which included participation by Alliance staff, met for two years to inform the CDSS California’s Child Welfare Continuum of Care Reform Report published last month. Its goal is to “reduce reliance on group homes as a long-term placement setting by narrowly defining the purpose of group care and by increasing the capacity of home-based family care to better address the individual needs of all children, youth and caregivers.” Overall, the report heralds an exciting paradigm shift from a system in which the placement setting of the youth drives the available services and supports to a system in which the individual needs of the child and family dictate the services and supports provided, regardless of where the child is placed. However, the report does not address the reforms that must be made to California’s foster care rate-setting system to accomplish this vision.

Our existing foster care financial support model provides most foster families with a basic monthly benefit to provide children with basic necessities, including food, clothing and shelter. However, the basic rate is inadequate to respond to the overall impact on a foster care family when a child has physical and mental impairments or disabilities. While needed therapies and treatments are provided for these children as a matter of law, caregivers often overextend their financial means and even reduce employment or stop working altogether to provide stable and consistent care for these children. Limited and fixed caregiver incomes are further challenged to meet the myriad needs of these children for tutoring, specialized diets, after school and camp activities and other support. In addition, transportation to needed treatments and therapies is costly, and caregivers themselves frequently need relief. Accordingly, California counties have been given discretion to supplement basic foster care rates with Specialized Care Increments to better support these placements. Unfortunately, these specialized increments are offered inconsistently, vary in amount, and are not available at all for children placed through Foster Family Agencies or children who are not federally eligible and who are placed with relatives. Notably, about 1/2 of all foster youth fall within these two categories of placements, meaning that 50% of our foster youth do not have access to these specialized rates. When support is not adequate, foster placements are at risk of disruption, and children often end up in group home settings.

The Alliance and its partners are proposing legislation to restructure California’s existing foster care rate system, making payments for the care of a child commensurate with his needs, regardless of where he is placed. A child-centered foster care rate system complements and supports the stated goals of the CCR to reduce reliance on institutional settings and therefore help foster children and youth avoid the many bleak outcomes to which they are otherwise statistically destined.

Approved Relative Caregiver Program: Refining a New Program to Provide Financial Support to Relative Foster Parents

Last year, the Alliance led the Step Up Coalition in pursuit of funding parity for children in placement with relatives. Our efforts motivated the Legislature to establish the Approved Relative Caregiver Funding Option Program (ARC) which makes state funds available to counties who want to better support foster children in placement with relatives. Until ARC, many children received little or no support while in the care of a relative due to antiquated federal rules and bad state policies. Counties must opt into ARC and, due to a recent extension, now have until June 30 to elect to participate in the new program. We encourage all of California’s 58 counties to do so, and to opt in sooner than later as every month that goes by, families and children are going without this newly available support. These new funds are essentially a gift from the state to enable counties to improve placement stability, reduce reliance on group homes and improve outcomes for thousands of our state’s foster children.

This year, the Alliance is working on “clean up” legislation to refine the ARC program and ensure the program works as intended and reaches all foster children placed in the home of a relative. Assembly Bill 423 (Cooley) will make it clear that ARC eligibility and funding is automatic once a child is determined ineligible for federal foster care benefits—just as a non-relative does not have to complete paperwork to receive state foster care benefits, nor should a relative caregiver be required to complete additional paperwork in order to begin receiving ARC funding. In addition, the clean-up legislation will ensure that children residing in counties who do not opt into ARC have their CalWORKs eligibility established by the county. We will be providing frequent updates on the status of AB 423 throughout the coming months.

“We can’t lose momentum from last year,” said Assemblyman Ken Cooley. “The ARC program is an important step forward in making sure that relative caregivers are given the same funding as non-relatives, but the work can’t stop there. There is more to do to ensure that these children receive the best support possible given the traumatic circumstances they have already endured.”

Foster Youth Education: Ensuring the Educational Rights of Foster Youth are Respected

The education outcomes of pupils in foster care are abysmal, due in no small part to their histories of trauma and abuse, lack of parent advocates and frequent changes in foster care placements and schools. A recent study found that of all at-risk student populations, California’s foster youth are more often enrolled in low performing schools and are significantly more likely to drop out of school and fail to graduate.

Recognizing the complex needs of this vulnerable population, the Legislature has passed several bills which give foster youth the right to:

  • Remain in their school of origin
  • Immediate enrollment
  • Enrollment in their local comprehensive school
  • Partial credits
  • Graduate with state minimum requirements rather than more restrictive district requirements under certain circumstances
  • Equal access to academic resources, services and extracurricular activities, including interscholastic sports and enrichment activities available to all pupils

Although foster youth have possessed many of these rights for over ten years, they are routinely ignored by school districts. Attorney intervention is often necessary to enforce these rights, but is largely unavailable to foster youth. To ensure that foster youth education rights are respected, the Alliance is advancing legislation, AB 379, to include foster youth education rights in the California Department of Education’s (CDE) existing Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP). The UCP may be used to report noncompliance by a local education agency (LEA) of applicable state and federal laws and regulations among other things, and are monitored by the CDE.

Specifically AB 379 will:

  • Allow foster youth to access the UCP to resolve alleged violations of foster youth education rights
  • Reduce timelines for LEAs to respond to complaints alleging a violation the right to immediate enrollment
  • Reduce timelines for LEAs to respond to complaints alleging a violation of the right to remain in the school of origin when the LEA has refused to allow the foster youth to remain in the school of origin pending resolution of a dispute
  • Provide for the award of compensatory education services to foster youth when the district has been found in violation of law and that violation resulted in the denial of the foster youth’s right to attend school

Including foster youth education rights in the CDE UCP will provide a way to enforce these important—and too often ignored—rights.