A report from the Cities Counties and Schools Partnership
CCS Partnership is a joint effort of the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties and the California School Boards Association. The Partnership promotes the development of public policies that build and preserve communities by encouraging local collaborative efforts among California's 478 cities, 58 counties and more than 1,000 school boards and districts the partners represent.
“My goal continues to be to have foster youth treated as we would treat our own children.”
Karen Bass, current Speaker of the California Assembly at 2007 CA Foster Youth Education Summit
California has the largest number of children and youth in foster care of any state in the nation with approximately 80,000 children in care in 2007. While 10 percent of the nation’s youth live in California, 20 percent of the children in foster care reside here. Outcomes for youth who remain in the system until they age out at 18 years old are predominately negative and include homelessness, unemployment or underemployment, incarceration and failure to graduate from high school. Half of the children in care are under the age of five and about the same percent have been in the system more than two years. Domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental illness are factors that contribute to the removal of children from their homes with 75 percent placed in care because of neglect.
In 2007, the CCS Partnership Conditions of Children Task Force decided to study the topic of emancipating foster youth in order to explore ways that local governments can improve the plight of these young people. As study of the topic progressed, it became obvious, that it is important to address the issues facing foster youth long before emancipation. In order to meet the needs of this very vulnerable population and improve their outcomes, we need to address care within the system itself.
Of course, the most desirable outcome is to prevent youngsters from entering the system at all.
If our focus begins with prevention, then we must educate both the general public and our school children about brain development and the adverse affects of substance abuse on fetal development. Drug and alcohol screening of pregnant women, infants and children at various stages of development are crucial. Then we need to develop a collaborative approach to supporting families through community resource centers that integrate programs and resources in order to provide tools to families so that they are more likely to be successful and stay intact. In this approach, communities are viewed as resources that can help support struggling families. Differentiated Response provides different levels of intervention to families in crisis, which results in the delivery of resources and services to children faster and younger than ever before and a decreased number of children being removed from their homes. If children are removed from their homes, it is important to seek a placement with relatives, before placing a child in foster care. “Family Find Software” is essential to this quest.
Additionally, children in the system benefit from the coordination of services.
Barriers between education and social services need to be eliminated to best meet the needs of youth. Legislation is needed to facilitate the sharing of information and the development of a shared data system between agencies.
Furthermore, the California system needs to provide resources appropriate for all of our varied counties so that they might meet the needs of the populations that they serve.
Rural counties in our state face unique challenges, such as, isolation, distance and lack of resources for basic services.Their unique issues need to be addressed, if we are to create a system that serves all of the people of California.
Finally, a web needs to be created to support those who do emancipate from the system.
In order for those young people to successfully integrate into adult life, we must ensure that the have the tools and resources they need: education, employment, housing, access to mental and physical health care and connections to adults and systems.
These young people are our responsibility; they are wards of the State of California and it behooves all of us to work together to ensure that their needs are being met.
Supportive legislation is important, but it is also important for cities, counties and schools to work together to improve the conditions for these children. Collaboration prevents duplication of services, enhances the quality of the services and saves valuable dollars. The solutions are simple, but not easy. Therefore, we need to look at exemplary programs across the state and replicate them in other areas.
This is important work; children’s lives are at stake.
The Complete Report:We Can Make a Difference