State issues final foster care plan

May 13, 2009 9:57:43 AM PDT
A state commission has released a final report and action plan on how to improve foster care for more than 75,000 California children.

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The California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care, created in 2006, previously presented its 79 recommendations to the state Judicial Council in San Francisco in August.

The council, which is the governing body of the California court system, accepted the recommendations and asked the commission to come up with an action plan for implementing them.

The action plan was officially released on Tuesday together with the commission's final report.

California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno, who chaired the commission, said, "The urgent need for action on these recommendations cannot be overstated."

Moreno said nearly half of California's children in foster care have been in care for more than two years and 17 percent more than three years.

He said, "Too often these children find themselves in a foster-care limbo, shifted from placement to placement, and separated from siblings, friends, and schools. We simply must act now to fulfill our promise to them -- the promise of a brighter future."

Twenty-six of the recommendations are for changes in juvenile dependency court rules and procedures that can be made directly by the Judicial Council. Those changes are already under way, according to the commission.

One recommendation is to have the same judge handle a case from start to end when possible. Another is to assign judges to juvenile court for a minimum of three years and to give priority in assignments to judges who are actively interested in juvenile law.

Other recommendations are for changes in law or better collaboration between courts and child welfare agencies.

Moreno said that one of the "linchpin recommendations" of the report is the formation of local county foster care commissions, co-chaired by the presiding superior court judge and child welfare director in each county.

The purpose of the county groups is "to help with local implementations of reforms and ensure that they are tailored to county needs," Moreno said.

Commission spokeswoman Renee Wessels said local commissions are being formed in 50 counties that sent a total of 400 participants to a summit meeting hosted by the state commission in December.

The action plan also calls for Judicial Council support for several proposed state laws that would take advantage of increased federal funding for foster care improvements provided in the Fostering Connections to Success Act passed by Congress last fall.

One proposed state law is AB12, which would extend support for foster youth from the current age of 18 to age 21. The commission urged that the law be enacted immediately.

The group said extending support to age 21 when needed is a key recommendation because youth who "age out" of foster care at age 18 are more likely to drop out of school, have serious mental health needs and experience homelessness and unemployment.

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