As California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) prepares to leave office at the end of the year, the last round of child welfare legislation under his watch includes a new law to ease the path of relative caregivers under the Continuum of Care Reform (CCR), the major child welfare initiative developed during his time as governor.
The Continuum of Care Reform is designed to reduce the state’s reliance on congregate care by placing more foster children with families, including more with relative caregivers.
However, since CCR began in 2017, the reforms have been beset by lengthy backlogs for the approval process for resource families, as foster parents and relative caregivers are now known. That has meant months-long waits for some new resource families to make it through the approval process, often without support.
While this year’s budget includes money to support caregivers who take in an emergency placement before they have completed the resource family approval (RFA) process, new legislation from state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D) aims to prevent the growth of an even bigger backlog of families who were already in the state’s child welfare system at the start of CCR in 2017.
“CCR is such a radical change to how we do business as usual in the foster care system,” Mitchell said. “There are already kids in the system and more are coming into the system every day as these new tools and strategies and ways of doing business are being created through CCR. My hope is that this bill will buy a little time, that for the children who are already placed, families can continue to receive their reimbursements as counties and the state get ready for the new RFA process.”
Senate Bill 1083, introduced by Mitchell, will give caregivers who were taking care of foster children before 2017 an additional year to convert to resource families, and meet the new requirements under that designation. The deadline is now December 31, 2020. The bill will also make it easier for families to restart the RFA process within 12 months if they had withdrawn their application, and will make informal placements with relatives easier.
However, a high-profile bid to create a mobile response team for foster children and caregivers across the state was denied by Brown. The County Welfare Directors Association (CWDA), the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California and a host of advocacy organizations were behind AB 2043, which would have created a 24-hour hotline and mobile response services to help caregivers and youth deal with stressful situations in an effort to prevent foster children from being cycled through multiple placements or ending up in congregate care.
In a veto message, Gov. Brown noted that the bill would require a large outlay from the state’s general fund. In this case, $5 million would go toward establishing the hotline and mobile team, plus tens of millions in funding to keep the system going, though CWDA maintained that up to 80 percent of the program could be supported by using matching funds under Medicaid.
“CWDA remains committed to seeing this mobile response system realized because these children and families deserve every bit of support we can give them, and this will help us realize the full potential of foster care reform in California,” said CWDA Executive Director Frank Mecca in a press release. “We are hopeful that the next administration will be supportive of the needs of foster youth and their caregivers, especially given that California will be eligible for federal matching funds to implement AB 2043.”
Brown did act to support placement stability by endorsing a bill supported by the California Youth Connection. AB 2247 will require caseworkers to come up with a “placement preservation strategy” before foster youth are placed with resource families. In most cases, caseworkers must provide youth with a written notice 14 days prior to a placement change, and no placement changes can take place between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. without agreement of the youth in care.
Other notable bills signed into law by Brown this year:
AB 1930 will address a host of implementation issues with CCR, including delaying some deadlines for phasing out the use of group homes.
AB 3047 will help tribes representing the interest of Native American children in child welfare courts in the state. The new law will waive the $500 fee that tribal attorneys had to pay in the state court system.
AB 2119 will make California the first state in the country to ensure that transgender youth in foster care will be able to access gender-affirming health care, including having transition-related treatments covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid system.
AB 2448 will ensure that youth in juvenile justice facilities and in some foster care placements be provided with access to the internet and computer technology for educational purposes and for staying in contact with family members.
SB 918 will instruct the California Homeless Coordinating Council to focus on the specific issue of youth homelessness in the state for the first time, including setting goals to prevent and end homelessness among California’s youth.
With AB 2207, the California Department of Social Services must develop model policies for how counties should work with commercially sexually exploited children who are receiving child welfare services by January 1, 2020.
AB 2083 requires each county in the state to develop a plan for how agencies will collaborate to help address the significant trauma experienced by many children in the state’s foster care system.
Aside from denying AB 2043, Brown also vetoed AB 724, which would have changed the way intercountry adoptions finalized outside of California are recognized in the state. The bill was in response to the deportation of some adoptees who had not completed the re-adoption process prior to their 18th birthday, thereby losing adoption-related eligibility to U.S. citizenship.
Brown also turned down the opportunity with AB 2005 to allow law enforcement departments to forward substantiated investigations of child abuse or severe neglect to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for inclusion in the Child Abuse Central Index. Current law prohibits law enforcement from forwarding these reports of abuse and neglect to the DOJ, but Brown invited the supporters to address implementation issues before submitting again.
Jeremy Loudenback is the child trauma editor for The Chronicle of Social Change, where this story first appeared. The Chronicle of Social Change is a national news outlet that covers issues affecting vulnerable children, youth and their families. Sign up for their newsletter or follow The Chronicle of Social Change on Facebook or Twitter.