Monday, December 27, 2010

SANTA? I’ve been a very good boy this year. Can I please have a brand new loving foster family AND an “educational liason” for Christmas?!

After researching the process of becoming a foster parent and digesting the statistical realities facing the youth in our current foster care system, it is safe to say that the current state of affairs is rife with inefficiencies.  Most of the issues stem from the fact that agency workers have to play “dual roles” throughout the foster care process.  As a result, potential parents are blindsided by the realities of the support they will receive, and what their own generosity will reap in terms improving the life of a child.  

With the ultimate goals of increasing the number of foster parents, lowering the barriers to those considering becoming foster parents, and increasing the widespread success of foster youths transitions into society, the system must address certain systemic failures that have existed for quite some time.  Under the current system, many foster parents become discouraged that they are really making a difference.  Without more effective actions, to make tangible improvements, public perception will remain that those youths involved are inevitably headed down an irreversible path to failure.  

Since Assembly Bill 490s inception in January of 2004, and continuing through the 2007 California Foster Youth Education Summit, the identified areas of concern regarding youths in the foster care system have persisted.  A major factor that was thought to contribute to poor educational statistics is that foster children are frequently moved from home-to-home and school-to-school.  The transitional problems mentioned included misplaced school records and failure to give proper course credit.  Also, the learning process was interrupted and ultimately disjointed by these school and home relocations.  Despite keeping the “child’s best interests in mind”, these relocations did not necessarily yield the best result. 

At the time of the Assembly Bill 490, it was clear that one step in the “best interest of a child” would be to provide them with an “educational liaison” who could help with the educational and school transitions affecting the foster youths.  Most of the issues identified with these transitions were not difficult to correct.  They simply needed to be addressed in a timely and complete manner.  

At the 2007 California Foster Youth Education Summit (CFYES), educational statistics had not improved.  75% of foster students still functioned below their grade level with 83% still being held back by the third grade.  Since AB 490 was passed, high school statistics had also not improved with a 46% high school dropout rate with still fewer than 10% of the youths enrolled in college.

What is mystifying is that in the years between AB 490, and this CFYES, the same culprits were identified but evidently had not been addressed sufficiently.  “Instability” related to multiple home removals and school changes were again identified.  Another hinderance mentioned was a lack of “consistent educational monitoring, intervention, and support”.  

Apparently, the suggestion of an “educational liason” mentioned in AB 490 was not effectively put into action.  Instead, what was done was to simply continue on the same path of stretching agency workers duties to include that of serving the quasi-role of an “educational liason”.  Deliniating a separate “educational liason” was a much needed change that did not occur.  

At the 2007 CFYES, additional “systemic issues” were metioned concerning a “lack of clarity between child welfare and educational personnel about shared responsibility for the educational outcomes of the foster youth.”  If a youth education summit regarding California’s foster youths cannot show improvement in previously identified educational problems, how can parents new to the foster care system, be expected to succeed when the foster care support structure they are a part of remains flawed?  

This lack of clearly defined roles and agency workers continuing to act in “dual roles” appears to be the achilles heel of the foster care system.  Agency workers functioning in “dual roles” is prevelant throughout the current recruiting and screening processes of potential foster parents, as well as with the “ongoing education” efforts provided to parents.  

Now it is nearly 2011.  Is the problem solved? Not quite.  With new federal funding available, we are faced with a perfect opportunity to fund an initiative to place “educational liasons” with all of the students in the foster care system.  A conscious effort must be made by California agencies to assign an “educational liason” (EL) to each foster child.  With an entirely separate role from the other agency workers involved, ELs can monitor students through their entire school careers- elementary, middle, and high school.  In coordination with tutors (if necessary) and agency workers, ELs can become familiar with the students academic history, their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their family history.  As a result, we can ensure that the majority of these school-related transitional issues can be avoided.  

Without a reliable support network at schools via the presence of effective and singularly focused educational liasons, the educational survival of California foster youths falls on the doorstep of the foster parents.  Parents who are unable to pick up the slack regarding the educational transition of these youths will then subject themselves to the negative fallout that a foster child in their care will be unable to succeed on their own; in both school and their adult lives. 

About the Author:

Brian Reed is a student at the University of San Diego School of Law. He is currently taking part in the Children's Advocacy Policy clinic and is working on issues related to increasing the number of foster parents in California's foster care system.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

CAI's Homeless Youth Outreach Project

 Kriste Draper has been a tireless advocate for homeless youth for over a decade. After Law School, Kriste started the Homeless Youth Outreach Project. The Project provides homeless youth with assistance designed not only to get them off the street into housing, but also to help them build a solid foundation of education, career, and healthy living that will help them to get on with their lives and stay off of the street for good. Learn more about the Homeless Outreach Project, and how it works here:

The Homeless Youth Outreach Project needs funding to continue helping these youth, and you can help. The Project was recently selected to compete for $50,000 in funding from Pepsi Refresh. Please take a few moments of your time to sign up and vote, then vote for the project every day. The top 10 projects at the end of December will get $50,000 in funding. There are also projects competing for $5,000, $25,000 and $250,000 in funding (though only two projects will be chosen for $250), so feel free to vote for projects in other funding categories as well. Your support is very much appreciated and will make a world of difference for homeless youth in San Diego. 

Follow this link to help support the Homeless Outreach Project in San Diego.

Thank you for your support!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

What is SB 39?

In October of 2007 the California legislature passed Senate Bill 39 (SB 39), which mandates procedures for publicly disclosing instances of child abuse or neglect that result in the death or near death of a child within the foster care system. Through requesting the information mandated by S.B. 39, which includes prior abuse reports and details of how the child died, we hope to better understand how the foster care system works and should work. One of the benefits of S.B. 39, is that it was passed with the intent to increase public disclosure so that the foster care system would be more accountable. One way in which this is possible is that S.B. 39 provides an opportunity for groups like CAI to study the correlation between repeat reports of abuse and child deaths. As we continue to gather S.B. 39 information, we at CAI hope to be in a better position to encourage positive change in foster care. 

Overall, the work we are doing on fatality reporting is not always filled with happy endings. But we believe that no child should needlessly die. Often these children are left without a voice and without someone to advocate their cause. In an increasingly overburdened system there is always the possibility it will allow one too many instances of child abuse to occur before that child is moved to a new home. Increasing our understanding of the reporting procedures is just one way we at CAI are showing our commitment to correcting the system. We don’t want deaths to just be numbers we pass over and are momentarily saddened by.  In the spirit of S.B. 39, we hope that facts attached to every instance that an innocent child was so mistreated that he or she dies will provide a story that can eventually be used in system changing way. Our hope is that the brighter the spotlight is on the issues facing the foster care system, the more people will be compelled to demand change in it. 
About the Author:
Braden Bohlinger is a student at the University of San Diego School of Law. He is currently taking part in the Children's Advocacy Policy clinic and is working on issues related to S.B. 39.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Traditions

As the Thanksgiving Holiday approaches, many of us are happily anticipating reuniting with our families. I am looking forward to my mom’s fabulous pumpkin pie and the pastries that my dad makes. I am excited to see my sisters, to spend time chatting and laughing with these three women who are such an important part of my life. I am eager to see my nieces and nephews and how they have grown. I can’t wait to wake up to the smell of bacon and the medley of other delicious aromas that float up the stairs on Thanksgiving morning at my parents’ house. I look forward the sound of my family talking and laughing over coffee on Thanksgiving morning. We will have breakfast, go to church, then come home, prepare food together as we talk, laugh and reminisce, and then our entire family will have an enormous Thanksgiving dinner together. This is our tradition. Families all over have their own traditions on this Holiday as well.

Since I have been working with foster youth, however, Thanksgiving has another layer of meaning. As I am eagerly anticipating seeing my family, my sisters, my grandma, my nieces and nephews, I am reminded that there are children and youth in the foster care system who do not have a family with whom they can spend Thanksgiving. Many are in group homes, have been separated from their siblings, or are in an unfamiliar place with people who are relative strangers to them.  These children and youth will not wake to their family busily preparing for whatever holiday traditions they hold dear during this time of the year.  Some facilities will do their best to provide the foster children and youth who reside within them a special Thanksgiving experience, but it will not be the same. It will not be the same as spending the Holiday with a loving, caring family. It is difficult to establish tradition for a child who is moving from place to place and may spend Thanksgiving in a different place, with different surroundings and different people each year. 

Here are some things that you can do, big and small, to make a difference for foster youth this Holiday Season:  

1)     You can become a foster parent:
California and other states lack foster families. The result is that too many children are placed in impersonal (and expensive) group homes rather than with caring families.  A foster family can provide stability, a caring environment, and the family so many of these children and youth need during the Holiday season and beyond.

2)     You can become a mentor:
Foster children and youth quite often move from placement to placement, their social workers change, their attorneys change, their schools often change, their circle of friends changes. Some youth will stop attempting to connect to avoid the pain of having the loss over and over and over again. These youth need a consistent, caring adult in their lives. Someone who can make Holidays a little more special. Someone they can count on, who will be there. There are several non-profits that provide mentors for foster youth, and some county child welfare departments do this as well.

3)     You can become a Court Appointed Special Advocate: 
Court Appointed Special Advocates act in the role of a mentor and monitor a child’s progress, and in some cases ensure a child’s educational stability. CASAs provide a much needed stable adult presence in the life of a foster child.  In San Diego, CA, the local CASA organization is Voices for Children. If you are outside of San Diego, you can get information on your local CASA organization and volunteer opportunities from National CASA

4)     Become an Educational Representative:
Many youth in the foster care and delinquency system need someone to advocate for their educational rights and ensure that they receive a the free appropriate public education to which they are entitled. It is also a way to help these youth maintain stability in school and have a consistent adult in their lives. CAI has an Educational Representative program.  If you are not in the San Diego area, your local CASA organization may have an Educational Representative program for which you can volunteer.

5)     You can contact Just In Time for Foster Youth or a similar nonprofit in your area to help a former foster youth establish a home of his or her own, volunteer and / or contribute to the organization’s holiday activities (many have events where they give gifts and have meals for the youth).  If there is no such organization in your area, look at what Just In Time is doing, and see if there is a way you can replicate this wonderful work.

6)     You can start a Transition Life Coach (TLC) program with a community group or religious organization to help an older foster youth form ties with responsible, caring adults and to help these youth form the networks and have the resources that they need to succeed as they transition into adult life. For more information, visit CAI’s website:

7)     Donate to organizations, like the Children’s Advocacy Institute that advocate for foster children in the courts, the legislature, and in front of administrative bodies to help ensure that these children and youth have access to  the same opportunities as their peers who are not in foster care. 

8)  Contact your local Child Welfare organization or a local non-profit to see what you can donate. Many of these  organizations accept donations of gifts and/or gift cards for the foster children and youth with whom they work.
      About the Author:
      Melanie Delgado serves as Staff Attorney for theChildren's Advocacy Institute. Her research and work focuses primarily on transition age foster youth and she is the primary author oftwo reports on the subject. Delgado is a graduate of the USD School of Law, where she participated in the CAI academic program, and was a co-recipient of the James A. D'Angelo Outstanding Child Advocate Award in 2006.

Friday, November 19, 2010

There is a Dual Jurisdiction Problem in California

In California, the state assumes parental authority over a minor child if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the child’s current guardian is “unfit,” and continued placement in the home is no longer in the child’s best interest.  Once the state becomes the child’s parental authority by law, the child is declared a “dependent of the state.” This declaration triggers a duty in the court to find the child a suitable replacement home, and to provide her with the care and attention she deserves.

The dual calendar issue in juvenile justice arises when a dependant child of the state commits a crime.  More specifically, California law follows a “separate jurisdiction” approach to dual calendar cases. Under this approach, once a minor’s case falls within the dual jurisdiction of the court, the judge will hold a §241.1 hearing to determine under which system the case should remain.  The judge is faced with the decision of whether to handle the child’s case under the dependency system, or alternatively to handle it under the delinquency system.  This decision creates the “dual calendar issue” because essentially the judge is forced to choose between the two systems, which consequentially forces the judge to choose between the benefits each system has to offer.  For example, if the delinquency court retains jurisdiction of the case, the dependency case and all the services provided by child welfare services are terminated.  This is completely contrary to the legislative intent for establishing a juvenile justice system in the first place.  The system was built around the notion of doing things only if they are “in the best interest of the child.”  The foundation of the juvenile justice system is based on the idea of rehabilitation, not retribution.   Terminating a child’s welfare benefits as a consequence of committing a crime is not in the child’s best interest.  Children are entitled to the most efficient, well-rounded approach to their rehabilitation and reunification efforts. If the judge is forced to choose between the two systems, the child will automatically lose the necessary treatment services unique to either system. For example, if the judge decides to handle the case under the delinquency system, the child will benefit from the structure and discipline of that system; however the child will automatically loose all the benefits she receives under the dependency system. On the other hand, if the judge decides to handle the case under the dependency system, the child will retain her child welfare benefits, but she will lose the structure and discipline the delinquency system has to offer.  Ultimately, the child always loses under a separate jurisdiction approach. 

Alternatively, California should follow a “concurrent jurisdiction” approach. Under this approach, the child’s case may be heard under the dependency system and the delinquency system simultaneously. Cases heard under the concurrent jurisdiction approach have more successful outcomes than those heard under an alternative approach because court procedure allows the child to receive the benefits of both the dependency and delinquency systems.  For example, if a dependency child commits a crime, she will continue to be treated by child welfare services, while simultaneously being held accountable for her actions.  This includes psychological, emotional, and behavioral therapy, along with any detention or incarceration decisions determined by the severity of the crime. Furthermore, states that follow a concurrent jurisdiction approach focus on community based alternatives to secure confinement.  States provide at-risk youth with continued support in areas such as school, mental and emotional health, social relationships, and family harmony.  The goal with this approach is to treat the child in the least restrictive setting that is consistent with public safety.

In California, the laws governing dual jurisdiction cases needs to be reformed.  The State needs to enact a statewide mandate that governs how these cases are handled.  Court procedure needs to be uniform across all counties.  Every agency involved in the process needs to be on the same page, and held accountable for their roles and responsibilities in each child’s life.  This is the only way a child will receive the care and attention she deserves once she is forcibly taken away from her family.

About the Author:
Jessica R. Springer is a law student at the University of San Diego School of Law. She is currently taking part in the Children's Advocacy Policy Clinicand is working on issues related to California's dual jurisdiction system.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Myths about Homeless Youth

The toughest part of my job is not working with homeless youth but trying to educate my fellow citizens about youth homelessness.  I am going to share with you the top two myths that I hear, in hopes that next time you see a kid on the street asking for money or just goofing off you will refrain from judgment and show a little compassion.

Myth #1:  Kids Choose to Runaway From Home


We have this idea that kids choose to run away from home when in reality the majority of homeless youth are there because they were THROWN OUT of their homes.  Here is the reality folks – some parents choose their new spouse or partner over their children.  Some parents do not have the means to provide for their kids.  Some parents do not feel that it is their responsibility to care for their children once they hit their teenage years.  It is an uncomfortable reality but one I see every day.  Not all parents are able or are willing to provide for their children, especially as their children get older and start testing the boundaries.

For those youth that do choose to run to the streets, let’s really think about the choice they had to make.  For many of these youth the choice is this:  Stay in a home where you are being physically and/or sexually abused, stay in a home where you are starving, stay in a home riddled with drug use or with parents suffering from such severe mental health issues they cannot care for you or run to the streets in hopes of finding a better life.

Choosing the streets is no more a choice for many of these kids than choosing to pay sales tax is for the rest of us.  It is out of necessity and survival that this choice is made and I would challenge anyone to ask themselves this question.  If a child is “choosing” to sleep outside in the cold, in the rain, willing to jump into dumpsters looking for food or be spat on while asking for change for a hamburger what must their other options (if they had any) look like? 

Myth #2:  Homeless Youth Just Need To Go And Get A Job Like The Rest Of Us

Now I am not sure this is truly a myth, because it is true statement.  Any youth who is homeless does need a job or a means to provide for themselves financially.  However, let us stop and think about what it takes for a homeless youth to get a job.
1.  The age factor, “Developmental Reality”:  Developmentally a 17-year-old no matter what their living situation is is going to act and behave like a 17-year-old, meaning that working full time and being responsible with money and delaying gratification are usually the farthest things from a 17-year-old’s mind.  Let us take a moment and think back to when we were 17.  Now be honest.  How many of you were chomping at the bit to get up early, pound the pavement for that full-time minimum wage job?  How many of you, once you had that job, just couldn’t wait to put all of your hard earned money into a savings account and watch it grow so you could afford your first apartment?  How many of you looked forward to missing your friend’s party or turned down a date so you could take that extra shift at work?

The reality is that for most of us didn’t.  We were thinking of things that are important to teenagers like getting a boyfriend or girlfriend, looking good, hanging-out with friends and testing the boundaries our parents had set for us.

Even if a youth can overcome their developmental handicap of being stuck in the world of instant gratification lets think about what it takes for a homeless teenager to get their first job.

2.  Basic Needs v. Getting a Job.
When we think about getting a job there are quite a few things we take for granted.
  1.  We have food to eat for breakfast before we go looking for a job.
  2.  We have clean clothes to wear for an interview.
  3.   We have a place to shower to make sure we are clean before we meet an employer.
  4.  We have access to medical care and the means to pay for prescriptions to get ourselves healthy enough to look for a job.
  5. We have a phone number to leave with an employer for a call back.
  6.  We have identification to prove who we are.
  7.   We have a bed to sleep in to make sure we are rested before an interview.
  8.  We have an alarm clock to wake us up on time.
  9.  We have a computer to print out our resumes and submit electronic applications. 

HOMELESS YOUTH HAVE NONE OF THESE THINGS! Going to get a job is not a simple or easy task when you are starving.  Going to an interview without being able to bathe and in clothes that have not been washed in over week is just not possible.  Getting over strep throat without penicillin or applying for a job without leaving a call back number for an employer to contact you is simply not realistic.  It is easy to say “just go get a job” but it is another thing to actually make it happen.  I have worked with kids who have waited over 6 months just to get a birth certificate so they could get an ID and be able to prove who they are!

Next time you see a kid asking for money on the street just stop and think.  Would I be out looking for a job if I had not had a meal in over a day or would I be sitting on the street corner asking for a dollar so I could go to McDonald’s and hit up the dollar menu for a cheeseburger?  For those of you who still think you would be out pounding the pavement looking for work, I challenge you to leave work this evening with nothing but the clothes on your back and head for the streets.  Leave your car, wallet and cell phone behind and find a nice piece of sidewalk to curl up on this evening.  Feel free tomorrow morning to get up in the clothes you slept in and head straight into Horton Plaza looking for minimum wage job applications to fill out.  I promise you that when your throat starts hurting from sleeping in the cold and your tummy starts growling because you have not eaten since lunch the day before, you will be looking less at long-term stable employment and more for what is going to get you fed, washed and clothed right now.

So next time you see a homeless kid on the streets asking for money or blocking the sidewalk because he is trying to show off for his girlfriend remember that that child is still just a child.  Remember that it is we, as society and as parents, that have failed these children in the first place and that maybe what they need is our compassion instead of our contempt. 

- Kriste Draper
CAI Staff Attorney

If you would like to learn more about Kriste's work at the Homeless Outreach Project and ways in which you can donate or help, please visit or contact Kriste Draper at 619-260-4806.

About the Author:
Kriste Draper serves as Staff Attorney for the Children's Advocacy Institute. Her primary responsibilities are to direct the Homeless Youth Outreach Project, providing legal services to homeless youth throughout San Diego County. Draper has been a strong advocate for homeless youth for over a decade; she started her work with the homeless at age 17. Draper is a graduate of the USD School of Law, where she participated in the CAI academic program, and was a co-recipient of the James A. D'Angelo Outstanding Child Advocate Award in 2006.

Monday, October 25, 2010


                                                                                 Photograph by:  Arvind Balaraman

Halloween is right around the corner.  This “holiday” that is first and foremost for kids, seems to be gaining in importance every year.  As the stores fill with Halloween treats earlier and earlier each year and we, consumers, are asked to start buying sweet treats and costumes as early as August, I’ve started thinking about what Halloween is like for all of our children in foster care.

As so many children are indulged (and, let’s admit it, over-indulged) this coming Sunday, I think it’s imperative that we all take a moment to think about what it is like to spend this holiday when you are being raised by “a system”. 

Recently, I overheard the experience of two of our clients who live in a group home.  They were sharing their Halloween experience.  They had two options….go to watch a scary movie or go to the dollar store, pick up a mask (not a costume, just a mask) and go trick-or-treating.  These two boys were lucky.  Not only did they have options but their options resembled those of non-system children.  However, I’m forced to also think about the differences.  These boys got to choose a mask…not a costume, a mask.  That’s it.  Plus, what to do with their candy when they returned home?  Sleep with it under their pillow to make sure one of the other kids in the home (maybe a kid who chose to go to the movie instead) wouldn’t then decide to help themselves?  What about the joy of opening the door when smaller children come around to collect their treats?  There are so many aspects to the holiday and, as a part of a group being raised by the system, it’s hard to imagine that each aspect will be able to be experienced.

Then, I think about the children who are being raised in foster homes.  We know that foster parents receive far less each month than the actual cost of raising a foster child.  So, will the foster parent reach into their own savings (again) for a Halloween costume? 

Even in a foster home, children are still being raised by a “system”.  Foster parents are bound by regulations to apply the “prudent parent standard” when deciding which freedoms to provide to their foster child.   However, it’s a hard question to ask….does a prudent parent allow their young teenager to go out trick-or-treating without an adult?  What if that prudent parent has the watchful eyes of a court system, social workers, and a licensing department on them?  What if that foster parent feels comfortable allowing their own young teen out alone but just met their young, teenage foster child?  What if something happens? 

What about carving a pumpkin?  Foster home licensing regulations require that sharp knives be kept out of reach.  Have you ever tried carving a pumpkin with a butter knife?  And that doesn’t even answer the question about who will buy our foster children their pumpkin. 

When looking at the simple childhood joys of Halloween, it becomes easy to see that a system has a difficult time raising a child.  With each experience of a foster child that mirrors the experience of a non-foster child, we are able to create a more closely-even playing field upon adulthood.  However, we must acknowledge that foster children are raised with a different set of experiences and, as much as we try otherwise, a different set of rules.  These differences shape who they become as adults. 

As you are enjoying the holiday with your children and your family, please take a moment to think about our children who are being raised by our State.  Let’s think about how we can make next Halloween just a little bit more child-friendly for our system-raised foster children.

- Christina Riehl
Senior Staff Attorney at CAI

About the Author:
Christina Riehl serves as CAI Senior Staff Attorney in the San Diego office, primarily handling CAI's litigation and related activities. Before joining CAI, Christina worked as staff attorney with the Children's Law Center of Los Angeles, where she represented minor clients in dependency court proceedings. Prior to that, she interned with the Honorable Susan Huguenor. Riehl is a graduate of the USD School of Law, where she participated in the CAI academic program.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Life After AB 12

On September 30, Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 12 into law.   AB 12 is an extraordinary step forward in helping older foster youth in California, especially given the budget problems the state is currently experiencing.  Implemented in phases, AB 12 will eventually allow foster youth to remain in care until age 21.  AB 12 is possible due to the Federal Fostering Connections to Success Act of 2008, which will provide federal matching funds for youth in foster care to age 21.

To understand the importance of AB 12, it is important to first understand the position of foster youth in California. Many experts consider a young person have attained self sufficiency around age 26, after completing college, starting a career, and / or having a family.  However, until the passage of AB 12 foster youth in California were expected to survive on their own 8 years earlier, at age 18. The results have been devastating: foster youth are vastly over-represented in the homeless population — with one in four becoming homeless for some period within 13 months of aging out of the system. Though the majority of foster youth aspire to obtain a college degree, only 3% of them ever graduate from a four-year university. Foster youth experience mental illness at rates much higher than their peers with no history of foster care; they also experience higher rates of unemployment than their peers, and those who are employed earn substantially less than their peers.  AB 12 will help many older foster youth  avoid these negative outcomes — or at least postpone them for a few years.

There is a tendency toward the perception that once a major piece of legislation like AB 12 passes, the problem is solved and the state should move on to other issues. The passage of AB 12 must not be the end of California's efforts to improve the lives of our foster youth. The legislation alone will not improve outcomes for these youth. Without proper implementation, the bill may serve only to delay the negative outcomes foster youth now experience after age 18. California needs to work to ensure that AB 12 lives up to its promise; in addition, California must continue to innovate and work toward helping the foster youth entrusted to its care.

First, AB 12 authorizes two new placement types for youth over age 18 — THP-Plus foster care and the supervised independent living placement. Both the federal Fostering Connections Act and the California's AB 12 recognize that youth over age 18 need age-appropriate options for placement. California must ensure that any placement types for foster youth over age 18 are age-appropriate, individualized, and do not place overly burdensome requirements on the youth, many of whom are attending college or trade school, or starting their careers.  This must be considered as the implementing rules are drafted and as the youth begin to utilize the placements. Simply expanding the group home model currently in place for youth under the age of 18 will not work for young adults post age 18.

Second, California must continue to look for innovative approaches to assist older foster youth as they approach independence.  The state must consider options for youth who may not want to remain “in the system” and for those who may need extra assistance, such as those who are parenting, experiencing mental health issues or emotional difficulties, and those who are experiencing trouble with school. California counties should consider utilizing funding from Proposition 63 (the Mental Health Services Act) or other sources to supplement funding from AB 12 to provide the most beneficial assistance possible to older foster youth. California counties should also consider implementing innovative programs like the Transition Life Coach as alternatives or supplements to AB 12.

Third, California must continue to educate social workers, dependency attorneys and others who work with older foster youth. These professionals must be aware of all the resources available to older foster youth both to prepare them before they leave the system and to assist them after they leave the system. Many former foster youth do not know how to go back to the system to receive assistance or obtain documentation relating to their history upon leaving foster care. Even with extended availability of assistance from foster care, every foster youth must have a practical understanding regarding resources and procedures for accessing services and information, upon leaving foster care. This is best accomplished by ensuring that those who work most closely with the youth are aware of resources and procedures.

Finally, the legislature and the governor need to make foster youth a priority in the budget. These are the state’s own children. California has taken parental responsibility for these children. While AB 12 was an acknowledgement of California’s responsibility to its own children, the groundbreaking legislation was followed by an $80 million cut to child welfare services. California’s own children will not succeed if the state’s budget continues to treat them as an afterthought, a source from which to cut money to avoid closing corporate tax loopholes.

California advocates and law makers should be commended for the passage of AB 12.  It is an extraordinary piece of legislation with the potential to vastly improve the lives of California’s foster youth. Now they must continue the momentum, implement AB 12 in a way that most benefits older foster youth and continue to look for innovative approaches to ensure a successful transition to adulthood for California's own children.

-Melanie Delgado
  Staff Attorney, CAI

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Status of Children in Today's Society

The Greatest Generation survived a depression, fought a world war against three major military powers, rebuilt Europe, and profoundly invested in its children—creating an infrastructure of transportation, parks, water development, generously provided safety net for children, and public education that was the envy of the world.  We, their children—today’s Boomer adults—are not passing it down the line.  Our legacy appears to be the disassembling of this historical commitment to children.  California reflects some of the hallmarks of this self-indulgence—a jurisdiction whose adult generation has gained uncommon wealth and comfort from the investment of our predecessors.  The manifestation of generational self-indulgence has taken many forms:

■ Child poverty is increasing and the public safety net is being withdrawn in a seriatim pattern of strangulation.  One generation ago, the basic safety net of Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) and food stamps approximated the federal poverty line in California; it has since fallen to now approach 50% of that benchmark.  The federal poverty line itself represents less than one-half of the California Budget Project’s calculated “self sufficiency” budget for California.

■   California has one of the lowest levels of participation in federal food stamps in the nation—as its state government gives those who need food help little priority—even when the funds to provide it are entirely federal. 

■ Many of the candidates running for office are threatening to eviscerate the meager TANF safety net remaining.  They apparently do not understand (or care) that not only are the levels record lows, but parents are barred from help for themselves or their children unless they are looking or preparing for work—and parents face a five-year lifetime limit on help.  And they will not mention in their demagoguery that 75% of the recipients are children, or that most of the parents are working or looking for work in a bona fide fashion.  Nor will the media—now dominated by five-second sound bites and celebrity reporting—likely call them on their deceit and hypocrisy. 

■ Our current Governor is willing to cut child care assistance radically.  This is the Governor who sponsored an initiative to increase after-school child care. The needle in our political spectrum has moved into the extreme “self-indulgence” side, especially for older adults.  Assistance for young, working poor families with children is especially lacking.  Ironically, many of these folk followed the rules and are now working and need child care help to keep working, or to find a job in a state with double digit unemployment.

■ Despite the passage of federal health reform legislation in early 2010, almost one million California children lack basic health care coverage, while coverage for the elderly (who cost seven times as much each) is universally assured.  Indeed, the state General Fund was unable in 2009 to provide even the one-third state match for new child enrollment in Healthy Families, and has had to expropriate funds intended for other purposes—including the fund approved by voters to help children ages 0 to 5.  For families whose children remain uncovered, this means little preventive care and reliance on emergency room care—with billing at three to five times the cost paid by private and public insurers.  An operation and short stay in the hospital means financial ruin for working poor families.  Taking a child in for treatment continues to feed the largest source of personal bankruptcy in the state—collection of medical bills.

■ K–12 education investment is in sharp decline.  The state has dropped to 47th among the 50 states in per pupil spending—and class sizes now fall to 49th, with thousands more teacher lay-offs threatened.

■ Higher education fees and tuition are at record levels as state officials, eschewing evil “tax increases”, make an exception by increasing higher education tuition (as well as increasing fees for child care and foster care licensure).  Federal Pell grants have now fallen to a small fraction of annual tuition.  College kids now graduate with unprecedented debt.  The State CalGrant system has similarly not kept pace with higher education costs for the students covered.  And symptomatic of the overall malaise, higher education capacity is being slashed.  Fewer youth will have a chance at college, at any cost.  Once the pride of the nation, the state’s public and higher educational systems have declined markedly.

All of the above are apart and beyond the state’s imminent evisceration of public investment in order to close a budget gap now reaching $20 billion per annum.  Reciting these developments in repetition of previous warnings risks the appellation of “chicken little” false alarmism.  Except that the sky, while it has not fallen, is in point of fact demonstrably darkening for children.

The federal stimulus package protected the state somewhat in 2009.  But it is not in prospect for the last half of 2010 or for 2011.   And even as to remaining federal matching funds in accounts for safety net and health coverage, will the state be able to provide its share?  That is increasingly in doubt.   

But it is more than an immediate problem.  It is an extended and evolving failure of generational performance—an unprecedented accumulation of obligation by one generation for its care and comfort imposed on those who follow it.  Former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker published a book in 2009, Come Back America.  Much of its data is regrettably confirmed by non-partisan sources.  Medicare, Social Security, and the federal budgetary debt are now projected to total over $50 trillion in unfunded liability for the next generation—those now being born.  Rather than diminishing it, he projects that we are adding $1 trillion a year to that daunting total.  And it now appears that his numbers have been overly conservative.  We have promised the current group of elderly a set of benefits that vastly exceed their contribution to its financing.  California is perhaps the worst offender nationally; it has added to the national total of $50 trillion owed to the two major elderly accounts and the budget deficit additional sums at the state and local level.  Through the ubiquitous “defined benefit” format of current public pensions, California adds to the nationally determined total with high unfunded liability for state workers, school district teachers and employees, and city and county personnel.  The City of San Diego alone has a $2 billion unfunded public pension liability.  Teachers and special district employees, and even utility retirees have piled up substantial pension deficits for our children to pay.  Many public employees are now able to retire at age 55—or younger—at full salary.  The demographics not only of longer lives, but of smaller families, means that far fewer young will be available to support a relatively larger population of our elderly.

The related problems of the Southern European welfare states (Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal), politically dominated by public employee unions, may well presage our own fate. 

Indeed, how ironic it is that the major source of current security for the United States, as our obligations begin to mount, is the full faith and credit from the People’s Republic of China, a totalitarian regime.  Our officials rightly warn of the pitfalls of dependency on Middle Eastern nations and the OPEC cartel, but less attention is paid to our supine posture before a communist regime with nuclear weapons—that is now our largest national creditor. 

What is the scale here of deficits and unfunded obligations?  How much is $50 trillion—a conservative projection given the power of the organized elderly and advances in joint and organ replacement, and in extended life, and our exclusion of public employee pensions?  One trillion is substantially more than one million dollars deposited every day from the time of Christ to the present.  To carry this understated sum of $50 trillion at a modest 4.5% (not to pay any of it off), our grandchildren will have to pay over $20,000 per family in current dollars.  That is almost one-half of median family income before taxes.  Although Nobel Economist Samuelson is talking about it, few others are.  In fact, the problem has been clouded by the anti-government, anti-deficit demonstrations of the “tea party” movement, which has contaminated this legitimate and compelling critique with demagogic ramblings, class warfare rhetoric and tribalistic partisanship.   

Even if the media were attuned to a problem that is gradual and long range, political influence factors favor the elderly.  At the federal level, AARP spends 28 times as much on lobbying as do all child advocates combined ($28 million versus just under $1 million).  The elderly vote heavily, and the median age of large campaign contributors is over 68 years of age. 

Instead of taxing us at levels approaching those contributed by our parents, we Boomers in California are complaining about our rather average burden, including property tax levels that are among the lowest in the nation.  And to exacerbate the disinvestment, those property taxes are slanted to allow our adult generation a cross-subsidy from the young.  Those property taxes are an ad valorem tax (Latin for a tax on market value).   But we have substantially frozen real property at just above 1977 levels for us older folks, while assessing those who start new businesses or buy new homes at current market rates.  That means that the young commonly pay five or ten times what Boomers pay in taxes for the same public services.  The Proposition 13 limitation of taxation to 1% of a property’s value is not the problem—instead, it is how it is assessed on dishonest market value bias, taken by one generation from the next. This practice stands as a rather naked violation of the American tradition of fairness and intergenerational equity.  The exploitation of our young by the Boomers in our state is not only unquestioned, any criticism of the arrangement is considered political suicide—and that judgment is one of the few bi-partisan agreements extant.

California represents one of the wealthiest jurisdictions on earth.  It is locked into paralysis borne of a deep and abiding generational flaw, and of three antidemocratic structural problems that exacerbate it:

▸ Both parties have gerrymandered the state to minimize competition, concentrating anti-state zealots in about 20% of the state’s legislative districts;
▸ Unlike almost every other state, California requires a two-thirds vote to enact a budget; and
▸ The Republican caucus, curiously eschewing their “individualism” ethic, adopted a rule binding all to vote with its majority.  Hence, 18% of the most radical representatives block child investment—a greater affront to democratic values than the often criticized 40% required to block action in the U.S. Senate.  

The sacrifice here demanded of California’s adults is trivial compared to our parents’ performance for us.  The state can select from a relatively painless menu: tax corporations at a level typical of other states; eliminate corporate tax avoidance through locational dishonesty; tax alcohol at the level other states commonly assess; restore the longstanding 2% vehicle license fee improvidently reduced after more than 20 years and producing $5 billion per annum we are now losing; and/or examine closely the nearly $50 billion in tax credits, deductions and exemptions that currently exist (which are not examined annually—or ever—and require a two-thirds vote to end).  Want more options?  Apply sales taxation to professional services; tax internet sales and allocate to states; and/or reform property taxation by assessing all property at actual value—perhaps reducing the 1% of value tax limit to ½ of 1% in the bargain. 

Importantly, the 2001/2003 federal tax cuts gave California’s wealthy class $37 billion per year in additional income.  Some combination of the measures listed above to recapture about one-third of this amount would retain most of the tax subsidy while (a) eliminating the state deficit; (b) allowing the state to capture federal matching funds otherwise foregone; (c) restoring safety net protection and educational opportunity; (d) medically covering the state’s children (as every other civilized nation accomplishes); and (e) allowing spending decisions to be made at the state level consistent with stated conservative principles of federalism.

But the problem is more complicated than the structural ability of a small minority to determine allegedly democratic outcomes.  The Republican philosophy does have some important messages to impart about the limitations of government, the importance of outcome measurement and accountability of agencies, the need to use market and self-regulating forces rather than “top down” dictation of policy by public authority, the tendency of Democrats to sequentially expand a social service establishment by hiring more and more public employees, and the failure to demand personal responsibility. 

The last element purportedly a part of conservative concern includes the most momentous decision human beings make—to create a child.  That message is in particular order where unwed births rise from levels of 8% a generation ago to 40% today—with most of the involved children living in poverty amidst a collapsing safety net.  Interestingly, the children of married couples live in families with median incomes well above $50,000, not 50% more or double, but about five times the family income of their contemporaries born to unwed mothers.  The poverty from unwed births is driven by improvident sexual license, contraception ignorance, and paternal abandonment.  Absent fathers of such children pay an average of less than $60 per month per child, and almost half of that money goes to state/federal accounts as TANF compensation.  Regrettably, it is considered politically incorrect to talk about such things by both parties.

But the Republicans have largely surrendered these laudable principles.  Instead of a partnership for children, where they back child investment conditional on this list of defensible principles, they have surrendered them in order to win from Democrats an ongoing public disinvestment in children.  They dare not offend the elderly—the welfare state there is sacrosanct.  Personal responsibility is not demanded—they will just remove the safety net for the kids.  And people do not pay their own way, they steal from those who follow.  There has been an implicit deal struck that allows each party to essentially sacrifice its laudable pro-child agenda in return for the excision of the other party’s counterpart.  There has not been a “contract with America” by public officials, but an undiscussed “contract on California’s children” by both parties.

— Robert C. Fellmeth
Price Professor of Public Interest Law, University of San Diego School of Law
Executive Director, Children’s Advocacy Institute

About the Author:

Professor Robert C. Fellmeth is a tenured law professor at the University of San Diego (USD) School of Law and Founder and Executive Director of the USD Center for Public Interest Law and its Children's Advocacy Institute. He is the holder of the Price Chair in Public Interest Law at the USD School of Law, one of two such chairs in the nation. In 1997-98, he was honored for his "outstanding, balanced, cumulative career contributions supporting the mission and goals of USD."
A graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School, Fellmeth was one of the original "Nader's Raiders," organizing the student groups in 1968 and directing the Nader Congress Project in 1970-72. As a deputy district attorney and Assistant U.S. Attorney in San Diego from 1973-81, he litigated 22 antitrust actions and founded the nation's first antitrust unit in a district attorney's office.
He currently chairs the board of directors of Public Citizen Foundation, is a member of the boards for both the National Association of Counsel for Children and First Star, and is counsel to the board of Voices for America's Children. He has served on the board of directors of Consumers Union and California Common Cause.
He has taught at the National Judicial College, the National College of District Attorneys, and the California Judicial College. He has authored or co-authored 14 books or treatises, including The Nader Report on the FTC (Baron, 1968), The Politics of Land (Grossman, 1970), California Administrative and Antitrust Law: Regulation of Business, Trades and Professions (Butterworths Legal Publishers) and California White Collar Crime (LEXIS Publishing). His latest treatise is Child Rights and Remedies (Clarity Press, 2002), a text on child advocacy.