By Kuaikuai Wei
Research has shown that more than 60 percent of children who have been in foster care at least two years have moved two or more times in the system. Parent-child match is still a problem in the child welfare system. There is little room for foster youth to have their voices heard.
Foster youth struggling with various issues have different physical and mental needs. Without the right tool to place them in proper foster home placements, some foster youth have good experiences in foster care while others have bad ones. With the aim to help foster childhood development, California is finding a way to build a caregiver evaluation system.
Lisa Roque* entered foster care when she was a teenager. Now 25, Roque says she was lucky to have a warm family take her in.
“There were challenges we had to overcome together,” Roque said. “Moving forward was hard for me during that time. If I were sent to a group home, I would probably have run away. Although there were tensions in our relationships, my parents made great efforts to help me to get through hard times.”
Her parents made her feel like part of the family.
“My mom is a baker and she always cooks amazing peanut butter pie for us. We gardened, we went to the beach with our dogs, and we barbecued. I love my parents. We are still close,” Roque said.
They also enabled her to have connections with the Independent Living Program and California Youth Connection and other organizations to help her change and have a different perspective on life.
Roque now works in the Foster & Kinship Care Education Program at Los Angeles Harbor College. As the program instructor, she provides support opportunities to caregivers of children and youth so that these providers can meet the educational, emotional, behavioral and developmental needs of foster kids. Through her passion for gardening and cooking, she spreads her love to the community and does her part to help foster youth.
Not everyone is as lucky as Lisa. Once when she shared her personal experience with another foster youth, the girl burst out crying.
“It was dramatic for her to even hear how blessed I was,” she said. “Her foster home wouldn’t give her enough food to eat. She actually had sexual abuse when she was in the foster care system. It is hard sometimes to talk about the good experiences because a lot of people get upset.”
In a lot of cases, foster youth struggle and are put in multiple placements. Currently, California does not have a proper process to oversee the quality of care that foster youth receive from their foster homes and group homes.
Kyle Sporleder, the legislative coordinator of California Youth Connection, said that foster youth want their voices to be heard.
“Our members are current or former foster youth,” Sporleder said. “Every year we ask our members what they think the most important issues in foster care is. Several years ago, they said that they really want to be able to give feedback and input about the quality of care in the places they are living.”
Since 2013, a couple bills (Assembly Bill 196 and Assembly Bill 2583) have been introduced to develop and implement a process of caregiver evaluations in the state foster care system. Both of those bills stalled during the legislative process due to cost considerations.
In February 2015, Assemblymember Matt Dababneh reintroduced AB 1416 to institute an evaluation system for foster homes.
“I had the opportunity to work with a number of foster care groups in the past and I feel very connected to this issue,” Dababneh said in an interview in his office. “We want to use this opportunity to give [foster kids] the ability to feel more empowered and have more to say over their situation, and make them feel they can express themselves.”
The Assembly appropriations analysis on AB 196 and AB 2583 estimated a one-time cost of around $100,000 to create the survey tool and ongoing costs of $250,000 to $500,000 per year to administer the program.
To get a chance to pass the bill and start the evaluation process, Dababneh amended the bill after talking to experts in child welfare. The bill would allow foster youth over 12 years of age and non-minor dependents to provide feedback on the quality of care received in licensed or certified foster homes and group homes at least once per year and upon exit from those homes.
“Obviously everything we are doing with government has a cost, but some costs are worthier than others,” Dababneh said. “By empowering these young people, it gives them a better opportunity to succeed in life and stay away from some future problems that will cost the state a lot more money. The cost is minimal because you are going to protect children to a greater degree.”
Roque was glad to hear about the introduction of the bill. She believed that the bill would help youth to know their rights and protect themselves.
“Things change a lot in a year,” she said. “I prefer if it can be done quarterly.”
“In the future we may adapt it to quarterly. This time we are going to have a good framework and good structure,” Dababneh said. “But I think the most important thing is to pass the bill, to get the evaluation process started, and create a culture not only for the kids but for the caretakers to understand why this is beneficial.”
AB 1416 will be heard in the Assembly Human Services Committee on April 28th. There will be an Appropriations hearing if the bill moves out of the first reading.
The name of the young person interviewed for this story has been changed to protect her privacy.
Kuaikuai Wei is a graduate student at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. She wrote this story as part of her coursework for the Price School’s Media for Social Change course.