Adoption Certification Requirement Compounds Foster Care Shortage in L.A.

Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is at a crossroads. While the number of children coming into the system steadily climbs, the number of suitable homes where they can be placed continues to dwindle.

Five years ago, in August of 2008, there were 17,140 children in out-of-home foster care. After dipping to as low as 15,000, the number has climbed back up to 17,389 children in August of this year.

During the same period, the number of beds available — whether in group homes, with kin or in traditional foster care — has dipped from 29,347 to 20,351, according to data compiled by DCFS.

While there are still more beds than children, the margin has grown precariously thin, with social workers having an ever harder time finding good placements for the wide range of children who come into the system with their own acutely different sets of needs.

The reasons for this decline are myriad, as are the department’s struggles trying to recruit and retain quality foster parents. Child welfare professionals and advocates say that the problems in recruitment and retention range from a county policy that requires all prospective foster parents to be certified for adoption; to the meager monthly allotments caregivers earn to care for children; and media coverage that often leaves the general public wary of taking the laudable, even heroic, step of becoming a foster parent.

At a press event celebrating family re-unifications held at the Edelman Courthouse in Montery Park last week, I ran into Leslie Heimov, the executive director of the Children’s Law Center of California, which provides legal representation for all the children who pass through L.A.’s juvenile dependency system. Heimov pointed to the county’s insistence on dually certifying caregivers for both foster care and adoption as dissuading many, by setting up yet another onerous step in an already daunting process.

“At the time it was proposed we voiced the view that we thought it was a bad idea,” she said. “It limited the pool of foster parents and we think it is a piece of the problem in the shortage of placements we are seeing.”

In an interview later the same day, DCFS Director Philip Browning sympathized, at least in part, with Heimov’s point. “I do think that it is an inhibiting factor,” Browning said.

Two problems he pointed to were the requirement that potential foster parents run two separate criminal background checks, often on their own dime; and that the adoption certification process forces them to dig back through their marriage histories even if they don’t intend on adopting in the long run.

He added that the department was looking for ways to streamline the process by relying on only the more stringent criminal background check, while allowing those foster parents who don’t plan on adopting to forgo the deeper dive into their marriage histories and other personal information.

Rhelda Shabazz, DCFS’ Deputy Director, Juvenile Court and Adoption Bureau, pointed to the benefits she sees with the more rigorous accreditation procedure for foster parents. “Our staff has endorsed this as an opportunity to do a deeper assessment of the homes where we place children,” Shabazz said.

While there appears to be a policy improvement that would allow for both rigorous foster parent assessment and diminished barriers for prospective foster parent, this is only one among many obstacles DCFS faces in finding and keeping foster parents willing to take children in. Principal among them is the patently inadequate foster care payments caretakers are allotted for taking in infants and young children.

“The amount we pay foster parents is very low, especially the payment for young children,” Browning said. “Parents say that infant formula, diapers and child care would take up their entire foster care payment.”

To assuage this, he said he has asked the state if his department can increase the amount of funding caregivers that take in small children receive. And, he said the department is trying to forge stronger partnerships with Head Start, Los Angeles Unified School District and other providers to offer more child care for stretched foster parents.

Another inhibitor to foster parent recruitment that Browning cited is the chilling effect de-contextualized media coverage around child deaths — particularly accidental deaths in foster homes — can have on the general public’s willingness to take children in.

Said Browning: “The news media has caused some people ask, is this is worth it? Is this is a risk worth taking?”

But, the media can also impel the public to step up. In a recent Los Angeles Times story, columnist Sandy Banks visits a foster parent orientation. In addition to cogently describing the hurdles that prospective foster parents face, she took an active role in joining in the solution by directing readers to information on how to become foster parents themselves.

Whether or not the department will improve or eliminate the adoption certification policy is yet to be seen. And while DCFS should pick the low hanging fruit, recruiting and retaining more foster parents is not up to the department alone. In respect to the example set by one Los Angeles Times columnist, I urge everyday Los Angelenos to consider how they can help.

Please visit DCFS’ “Share Your Heart” webpage to learn more about becoming a foster or adoptive parent.

Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of the Chronicle of Social Change.

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Daniel Heimpel
About Daniel Heimpel 192 Articles
Daniel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change.

13 Comments

  1. It’s a mixed bag. It’s not any one thing. There are good foster parents and bad ones. There are good social workers and lousy ones. DCFS and the courts have many well intentioned policies and some not so adequate ones. It’s an imperfect world. The best thing for the child is to be with family, but we all know that anyone can have a child but not necessarily do right by that child. In a third world country children are living with neglect and deprivation that is abusive, but they are with their families. Here, in America, we know better and can do better, so we set up various agencies, systems, checks and balances, and still it has the potential for failure. The focus could be on what we are not doing, but let’s look at how much is positive and works. We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater! Sorry for the intentional pun, but thank goodness for what we have and the fact we are trying to improve it. I was a social worker with DCFS for 14 years. I am now a therapist in private practice. I help families stay together. I do my part and participate with numerous agencies that provide resources to families. There will never be a time that people don’t hurt, abuse, and/or neglect children. But, we have come a long way in first admitting we even have a problem and doing our best to fix it day by day. I have faith that we will one day find a way to manage, support, educate, and better fund parents. We live in a free society. We can choose if and when to have a child. The down side is that the more educated parents often have less children based on their ability to provide and support. While the less educated parents often have numerous children and can’t provide for them. There are people out there who don’t believe in birth control or abortion, but they are okay with having their children in placements all over the place and continuing a life of drugs, prostitution, and compromising the children in utero that then leads to compromising the system as the children will often need Regional Center and Special Education, and intensive medical care due to their exposure to drugs, STD’s, abuse and neglect. There are some cultures that say, “You can’t impose Norplant on a mother as that would be genocide on our people!” There are so many factors. It is complicated!

  2. The main concern is where are all these children coming from? Why is it that children in deplorable conditions are left where they are, but kids whose parents who refuse to immunize, or some other small infraction, suffer removal? Are their families contacted to take the children? What about addicted infants cleaned up and returned to their addicted mothers? Dont try to convince us that these kids have been legitimately removed from their homes. Those of us living this twisted nightmare know better. Parents cam commit 3rd degree felonies against their children, and nothing is done. Cops and DCF look the other way. Im sick to death of you…..like the Catholic church, these agencies are guilty of untold suffering.
    http://www.signon.org/sign/sarasota-sheriffs-office

  3. Currently going through the process of becoming a foster parent. I have footed the bill for everything that it has taken for me to be stuck in limbo. Every time I check to see how much longer all I get is the run around. I do whole-heartedly believe that we need foster parents here in the County. That are looking to protect and give love and comfort to children that have not received it. The system is broken and there needs to be serious changes made to the process. There are individuals who sat in my PS-MAPP class and just saw dollar signs and a opportunity to not have to work. Being a foster parent will not allow you to pay for that Escalade! The reason I have put myself through the ups and down of the process is to be a safe haven for a child in need.

  4. yeah, you can’t foster unless your ultimate goal is to aid dcfs in violating both familial and parental rights, break the law on a consistent basis and use children as your personal commodities and to top it off, you’ll be subjected to the ignorant, often times uninterested social workers, who whenever they like will march in and remove children as if you are an offender. …And that folks, is how it is!! Join now, for $540 per month per child!! and remember that social worker?, she’s getting paid $9,000 a month….

  5. I’ve got a good idea, start actually investigating accusations made, as many are made out of spite. Help the parents who are willing to do for their children instead of barely getting services in place only to have children ripped out of their homes less than a month later based on lies. The psychological and emotional damage caused to both children and parents is abusive in itself. When homes are lost, help parents with housing so the children can be reunited their families, but most of all, STOP TEARING APART INNOCENT FAMILIES AND TREATING THEM WORSE THAN THE MOST DANGEROUS CRIMINALS……..!!!!!!!!

    • We already do that. Just last week one case was exposed. The sw was fired after an investigation revealed many wrong doings. It has helped to get her cases re-evaluated. Kinship Law was also forced into use preventing foster care and loss of lineage, as well. What it is going to take is every single unit harmed to come forward. For government intrusion, such as what happened with Native American Laws of the Land this week, to awaken their jobs are not be in the political arena creating damages to it’s people.
      Until a voice as a nation on an international level takes place for changes we know are needed, nothing good will ever come from a treaty signed into law. Just ask any Native American Indian, including me, all have been broken when entered into.

  6. Thank you for the article but I have to disagree with the assertion that dual certification is a bad thing. The issue of children dying or being further traumatized while in care is a real one and one that will not be helped by lowering the requirement. The first commenter, while not very eloquent, is on to something. As a certified foster parent myself , I can say that, on an institutional level, DCFS and the dependency court treat foster parents with emotional indifference, as disposable and like glorified babysitters at times. In addition to higher reimbursements and affordable child care, DCFS needs to treat foster parents with some respect and understanding. All while demanding higher accountability and a focus in the long-term needs of the child. This begins with timely, honest and accurate information from front line caseworkers and ends with a court system that is truly child focussed and not just fixated on ‘parental rights’, suit avoidance or being overturned on appeal. While negative mass media coverage is definitely a barrier to foster parent recruitment, negative word of mouth from current and former foster parents is an even larger one, especially for fost-adopt parents for those kids that’s can’t be reunified. I personally have scarred at least 4 people away from foster care just because of my own experiences. And that’s after sugar coating my stories. Each current foster parent has a story to tell their friends and family, who then tell their friends and family, etc. At the end of the day, negative peer-to-peer experiences dissuade many potential foster parents before they even get to orientation.

  7. Social workers treat fosterer’s like crap is what the problem is!! Known several families fostering children and the ss worker chooses to give a 4 mos old baby to her friend!!??, so she treats the foster parents like crap, the child like an object and the family as usual, like shyt…..that’s why you don’t have foster homes, because you got a bunch of acehole social workers treating them all like crap. I think you guys only want the ones who kill children, right?, more funding to you!

  8. The entire 8 mo. my son was in foster care he recieved 350.00 per mo. child support, while I continued to provide all his needs even much of his food. He is lactose intollerant, I povided almond milk and many other foods for his needs. I also bought any new clothes and shoes as foster mom dressed him in donations only. I also had overnights from fri. after school – sun. after dinner at my sisters. Am I wrong to question where his support checks went.

  9. Marilyn and Lori,
    Both of you are Right on Target. Thanks for doing your research.
    All I can say when foster over 15 years ago, yes we had to be financial stable, and monies paid went directly to the food, clothing, and basic necesities for the child.
    Not to mention even the practice of Fost-Adopt wasn’t even a title, at that time. Talk about being obvious about the position??
    And yes, over 80% of the children returned to their families.. Plus, we as Foster Care Givers, at least in the counties we were in, worked directly with the parents in regards to their transition.
    So I do encourage everyone to learn All sides of the issue and don’t buy into the Child Abuse Hysteria that is being spread by the news.
    But yes, Foster Care Givers should be reluctant, for it is not IF an allegation will occur but WHEN. Like the many parents being Falsely Accused, a Foster Care Giver must also know how to Defend Themselves.. Since, and believe me the Agency is NOT your buddy.

  10. If CPS would quit taking children from good homes they would not have a shortage. I know from seeing with my own eyes how social workers will go into court and lie. Why lie if there is really abuse there? I know of people that have done everything they were asked to still not have their children returned, of blood relatives wanting to take custody and being refused but offered to foster other kids.wth! There are children that do need help but the system needs to change to be accountable for the truth and only the truth be told and proven.
    Stop the incents to take children and put in foster care. Our children need to be with family and the government needs to make sure the social services agency are doing their jobs properly or get rid of them.
    The children are paying the price for this money and the conduct of these people.
    PLEASE HELP THE CHILDREN!

  11. This is great news! Foster caregivers are dwindling! My empathy is non-existent when I know two things: CPS is not and never will be a solution-oriented agency and if the number of “no other choice” foster placements were what they should be (4 out of 100 of the current number), there would be no need to recruit more caregivers. Tax payers – wake up and look up the facts yourself in NCCPR.org. You only have to read a few of the articles to get the real picture.

  12. The Financial Requirements to becoming a foster parent- you must have a source of income outside of the revenue you will receive for a foster child- hence all expenses previously paid before fostering and all allotted monies should be spent souly to provide for the needs of the foster child- you foster to give abused an neglected children a chance at life- not to gain a FREAKING paycheck- and certain contracts in Los Angeles include a payment of up to $9000 per child LOOK UP THE CONTRACTS PLEASE you will see these foster parents tend to be very well paid non-taxable income to care for children- and earn tax credits for adoptions!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! BROWNING YOU ARE A LAIR!

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