Foster care system changes are in the works

December 10, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
California's foster care system is overstressed and under resourced. Today a blue ribbon commission in San Francisco made some recommendations to begin improving the system. At least two major changes are in the works.

When a foster child turns 18, he or she is on their own -- it's called aging out. Between 4,000 to 5,000 children are forced to leave the system each year. With nowhere to turn, some end up homeless or living with friends or relatives.

Joscelynn Carbonell was in foster care.

"Unlike with other kids you could go back to somebody, you have a support system, you have somebody to pick you up when you fall down, they don't have that, they are on one their own, they are America's forgotten children," said Carbonell.

A federal bill would extend foster care to children past the age of 18 up to 21, but first the California legislature must approve it.

Assemblyman Jim Beall of San Jose led a forum in San Francisco to focus on the state's foster care needs and ways to fund them.

If the foster care age is extended to 21, the state and counties would have to pay half of the cost, then the federal government would pick up the remainder. It's a tough sell given our hard economic times.

Frank Mecca is the executive director of the County Welfare Director's Association.

"In the case of foster care they are very well documented, they are scientifically proven so we know that by not investing we'll incur more costs in the long run," said Mecca.

"This is a policy that is in place in a number of large states and it's been proven to reduce adult incarceration and improve post secondary education outcomes," said Amy Lemley from the John Burton Foundation.

There is a way to pay for this additional expense. Today, California pays 100 percent of the cost of taking care of a child by a relative, and that's about to change.

"By opting into the federal program 50 percent of those costs would be paid for by the federal government, saving California $50 to $60 million a year," said Lemley.

The bill, AB12, still must go before a number of committees before it hits the floor of the Assembly.


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