New California Budget Sees Big Child Welfare Investments

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a $200 billion budget last week that included several large investments, including support for relative caregivers, a new state home visiting program and diversion programs for at-risk youth in the state.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a $200 billion budget last week that includes significant investments for the state’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems, though many of those are on a one-time basis.

The state’s budget is at an all-time high, but with Brown stepping down at the end of the year, many investments expire after one year.

Brown and California legislators set aside $248 million from the general fund to support the largest child-welfare effort of his administration, the Continuum of Care Reform (CCR). Under CCR, the state is tasked with placing more of the children in its foster care system in family-like settings instead of institutional settings.

The new budget will address one of the most pressing CCR implementation issues. Some resource families—the state’s new designation for both foster families and relative caregivers—have experienced lengthy delays getting through the approval process, meaning sometimes months-long waits for foster care payments for many caregivers, especially relatives.

The new California budget will get around some payment issues by providing funding at the time of placement for families who take in a child on an emergency basis. Starting on July 1, 2018, counties in the state will pay a 30 percent share of non-federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) emergency assistance funds for all new emergency placements. The state would be responsible for the remaining portion.

Thanks to a budget trailer provision, the new budget authorizes the California Department of Social Services to allow extensions for some group homes to continue operating past a state deadline to transition to a new therapeutic model. Under CCR, all group homes must transition to a become short-term residential therapeutic programs (STRTP) by December 31, 2018, in order to stay in business. Now the state is granting six-month extensions to some by August 15 as long as they meet certain conditions, including having a plan in place to transition youth into placements in homes or STRTPs.

The state will also track costs and savings associated with CCR for the first time. Several state groups representing child welfare and probation will meet with the state’s Department of Finance to develop a methodology that will be used to assess the overall fiscal impact of the initiative for all counties in 2018-19.

Designed to create more family-based placements under CCR, the Foster Parent Recruitment, Retention and Support program has been scaled back in the new budget. Last year, counties split $43.3 million in funds designed to add and retain foster parents. This year that number is $21.6 million, which includes $13.8 million for child welfare agencies in the state and $7.8 million for probation departments.

Also of note, the governor indicated in the first version of his budget in January that the state will spend $26.9 million to create a voluntary home visiting pilot program. The new program will provide 24 months of services to pregnant women and first-time parents and caregivers of children under the age of 2.

The state will set aside $37.3 million for the Youth Reinvestment Fund. About $26 million will go toward community-based youth diversion program grants issued by the Board of State and Community Corrections. About $1.5 million will be targeted at the needs of Native American youth in the state, including help linking them to mental health resources.

Another $4 million will be used to prevent foster youth in group homes and shelters from entering the criminal justice system. About $500,000 will go toward helping congregate care facilities that serve foster youth develop new rules about when they can call in law enforcement in response to behavioral issues or conduct at facilities. Now, group homes, STRTPs and shelter care facilities must develop new trauma-informed de-escalation and intervention techniques and limit calls to law enforcement to emergency situations only. In addition, $3.5 million in one-time funds will go toward developing community-based, trauma-informed diversionary services for foster youth.

Designed to support California youth in higher education, the Cal Grant program will set aside an additional $5.3 million next year for foster youth students. The budget also includes a couple of provisions that advocates hope will make it easier for foster youth to claim Cal Grant money. These include allowing young people the ability to claim the money over eight years instead of four and extending eligibility for current and former foster youth up to age 26. Former foster youth also now have until age 26 to claim the Chafee Grant, funding that helps support current or former foster youth in college or with technical training.

The state will provide $3.7 billion to fully implement the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) program. LCFF helps direct extra resources to foster youth, English language learners and low-income youth in the state schools.

As the state put together a $500 million package designed to address homelessness, it earmarked $25 million specifically to reduce youth homelessness.

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Jeremy Loudenback
About Jeremy Loudenback 275 Articles
Jeremy is the child trauma editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.