SACRAMENTO — California’s foster-care system for 115,000 children who can’t live with their own parents is broken, say state lawmakers who are pushing a $63 million package of bills.
Half of the children never finish high school, a third end up in jail and a quarter become homeless, according to lawmakers and foster-care advocates.
“The system is broken. What future do we give to these kids? What statement does it make as a society as to who we are?” Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, told the Assembly.
The Assembly on Tuesday approved five bills in its 11-bill package aimed at improving housing and education for foster teens, training and money for foster parents and support for county child welfare workers.
While the plan passed the Assembly, it faces trouble with the tight state budget.
The Assembly’s budget plan contains the $63 million for foster care during the 2001-2002 fiscal year, but the plans from the Senate and Gov. Gray Davis do not.
A six-legislator conference committee is writing a compromise budget no, but the committee has not voted on the foster-care proposal.
Children who cannot remain with their parents because of abuse, neglect or other problems are put into foster care. If family members cannot be found, they are placed with a licensed foster family, which is paid by the state.
However, when they reach the age of 18, they no longer get help. Every year, 2,500 foster youth are “emancipated,” meaning they reach the end of foster-care services, said Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley.
Teens lead very structured, regulated lives in foster care and often are not allowed to visit friends or get a driver’s license, but then suddenly at 18 are expected to be independent, said Victoria Finkler, legislative and policy coordinator for California Youth Connection, a group of former and current foster children supporting three of the bills.
“We think it’s pretty unrealistic to expect youth, especially when they’ve been so regulated, to be completely independent at 18,” Finkler said.
Two of the bills approved Tuesday would extend housing assistance and training for foster teens until the age of 21.
“We can’t expect 18-year-olds to be tossed off foster-care assistance and thrive in a world that is hostile and difficult for them,” said Assemblywoman Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, author of the housing bill.
Many foster-care children have psychological problems because of their turbulent family backgrounds, added Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
“Too many of these children with emotional problems who have not gotten the support they need and deserve turn 18 and have nowhere to turn. Too many of them end up on the street,” said Steinberg, author of a bill to increase the rates paid foster families by 5 percent a year at an annual cost of $5 million.
All the bills approved Tuesday move to the Senate, where two other bills in the package are pending. The other four bills were scheduled for Assembly votes Wednesday.
WHAT’S IN THE BILL
Here are the foster-care bills approved Tuesday by the state Assembly and their votes:
• Young adults up to age 21, instead of 18, could get $5 million in transitional housing help, AB1261 by Assemblywoman Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, 71-0.
• Young adults up to age 21, instead of 18, could get $8 million for educational or training programs, AB1119 by
Speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, 72-0.
• Child welfare caseloads for social workers would be reduced over five years at a cost of $12 million a year, AB364 by Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, 54-17.
• A new $3.5 million program would help counties recruit and keep foster parents, AB557 by Aroner, 57-12.
• The rights and responsibilities of children in foster care would be listed in law, AB899 by Assemblywoman Carol Liu, D-La Canada Flintridge, 66-4.Foster-care bills scheduled for votes Wednesday:
• Educational services for foster youth would be expanded by $15 million to cover all counties, AB797 by Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, D-San Francisco.
• Foster parents would be given child care when they work, AB1105 by Assemblyman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto.
• Foster family rates would be increased 5 percent a year for four years at a cost of $5 million a year, AB1330 by Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
• County welfare officials could reduce the money that families that take back their children after foster care are charged
for the cost of that care, AB1449 by Assemblyman Fred Keeley, D-Boulder Creek. Foster-care bills previously approved:
• Prospective adoptive parents would be given more information about the foster youth available for adoption, AB538 by Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.
• County child welfare agencies would be judged on the success of foster children and families, AB636 by Steinberg
On the Net:
Read about the California Youth Connection, an organization of current and former foster youth, at http://www.calyouthconn.org
Read about the state’s program at