The new 2018-2019 state budget California lawmakers sent to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk includes a pot of $4 million allocated for protecting foster youth in shelters from unnecessary arrests and criminalization.
In 2017, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Karen de Sá, Joaquin Palomino and Cynthia Dizikes revealed that law enforcement agencies across California arrest the abused and neglected foster children housed in the state’s 10 short-term emergency shelters at staggeringly high rates. The reporters found that when the kids housed in California’s 10 shelters act out, run away, and otherwise behave like children suffering from the effects of trauma, shelter staff often resort to calling the police.
Between 2015 and 2016, the staff at the 10 shelters called local law enforcement agencies 14,000 times regarding the kids in their care. During the same period, children entered various county juvenile halls nearly 200 times.
Despite the fact that shelter staff members undergo specialized training on how to care for traumatized children, foster kids in these shelters are commonly arrested for acts like kicking, shoving, or biting their caregivers.
The problem is not unique to the emergency shelters, however.
It’s a Group Home Problem
In 2016, group home administrators made 6,217 non-mandated calls statewide for youth behavior. Approximately 60% were for behavior that was not aggressive. From those non-mandated calls, cops issued 435 citations to foster youth, arrested or detained 527 kids, and booked approximately 319 youth into juvenile hall.
In Los Angeles, St. Anne’s Maternity Home—which houses girls in LA’s foster care system who are pregnant or who have children under three—reportedly made a staggering 904 calls to the cops in 2016 about their charges, kids who are, by definition, already dealing with pasts of abuse and/or neglect.
At a recent meeting of LA County’s Commission for Children and Families, the commissioners asked various county officials to show up to discuss why so many of the county’s foster care facilities were calling the police so often on the kids they were charged with helping.
State lawmakers aim to address the issue through a $4 million budget allocation that will go toward training law enforcement and group home staff, and will fund nonprofit community groups that provide trauma-informed services to the state’s foster youth.
A related bill from Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson), AB 2605, would impose a three-year ban on arrests in foster care facilities for minor offenses that are not mandated law enforcement calls.
“Having served in law enforcement, I have seen how young people get trapped in the juvenile justice system because of minor incidents charged against them,” Gipson said. “Group homes are given extra resources to manage behavioral problems in their facilities and should absolutely be using them to provide appropriate care. The first response to a child poking a caregiver with a candy cane, for example, should never be a call to law enforcement.”
The bill, which is sponsored by the Youth Law Center, also requires group homes to update their protocols to include rules regarding the types of incidents that are and are not appropriate for law enforcement to handle. “Contacting law enforcement shall only be used as a last resort once all other deescalation and intervention techniques have been exhausted and only upon approval of a staff supervisor,” according to the AB 2605.
Gipson is also issuing a three-year budget proposal that would give more than $7.5 million per year for three years to community organizations based in counties with foster care facilities making 100 or more calls to police every year, as well as counties that have a high number of foster kids being funnelled into the juvenile justice system. These community organizations would provide de-escalation training to group home staff and police, and provide kids in group homes with college prep, art, music, and sports programs, as well as mental health and other needed services.
“These youth have faced significant trauma in their lifetimes and deserve better than to be sent to juvenile hall as a time out,” said Gipson.
Image: Mary Graham Children’s Shelter, where staff phoned the San Joaquin Sheriff’s Department 5,049 times between 2015 and 2016 to deal with kids in their care, according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s investigation.