The Road Ahead for California’s Foster Care Reform

Blog post Cathy Senderling-McDonald

CWDA continues to fight for the tools and resources necessary for the success of Continuum of Care Reform (CCR) in California’s child welfare system. It is imperative that California enact legislation that will help California meet the goals of this major foster care reform effort and ensure that funding is dedicated to that purpose. We must ensure that foster youth and caregivers are supported and stable as we continue to roll out and learn from this reform effort. To that end, we are determined to see two important policy efforts implemented in the coming year.

Awaiting Governor Brown’s Action:

AB 2043 by Dr. Joaquin Arambula and AB 2083 by Assemblymember Ken Cooley are both currently on the Governor’s desk. These bills exemplify what youth, caregivers, and county agencies need to fulfill the vision of CCR.

Assembly Bill 2043, cosponsored by CWDA, Children Now, and the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California (CBHDA), would create a Family Urgent Response System (FURS) for foster youth and caregivers. The bill is supported by a coalition of more than 500 youth and caregiver advocates, as well as health care, education, faith-based, and community organizations throughout California. Although the corresponding budget request for this program was not included this year, CWDA is urging the Governor to sign this bill to create the necessary statutory framework to move forth toward implementation in the next Administration, especially given that California will be eligible for federal matching funds to implement it.

FURS will create a 24-7 hotline for foster youth and caregivers experiencing difficulties who need immediate help. The trained operators will help defuse the immediate situation and determine whether in-home support is needed. Through the hotline, the operator can dispatch a mobile response team to stabilize the situation and create a plan of action. It’s common that behavioral issues occur as a result of the trauma and instability foster youth have experienced in their lives. If foster youth and their caregivers have a mobile response resource available, it will reduce calls to law enforcement, connect them with services necessary to deal with issues that arise, and ultimately help create a more stable environment for these families. We often hear that foster families feel frustrated when a stressful situation arises that threatens to disrupt the family unit. Our current systems are simply not set up, nor funded, to provide services immediately in the home when they are needed. AB 2043 will remedy that gap, one of the as-yet unfulfilled promises of CCR.

CWDA’s other priority, Assembly Bill 2083, is a CWDA-sponsored bill to help foster children and youth who have been so traumatized that their cases need coordinated efforts by state and local agencies to ensure they receive every service available to them. This is not a particularly large number of children, but their cases are the hardest for county social workers and our partners to ensure a stable and positive home environment because their previous trauma has been so extreme. Unresolved trauma and mismatches or delays in services needed across multiple systems can lead to forced and unplanned exits from placements, law enforcement or juvenile justice involvement, and even refusal of providers to serve these vulnerable youth. These instances further traumatize youth and compound their acute needs. Assemblyman Cooley further expands on the complications faced by foster youth and agencies in an op-ed that ran in the Sacramento Bee earlier this week.

The overarching goal of AB 2083 is to break this cycle and better serve youth who have experienced severe trauma, by ensuring the services available to them are coordinated, trauma-informed, and timely. The state and local coordination that AB 2083 envisions is what we need to make sure our highest-needs foster youth receive the critical services they need to heal.

CWDA and our partners urge Governor Brown to sign both bills to ensure California’s child welfare reform is on the right path to succeed for all of our children in care.