This week, The Chronicle of Social Change is publishing a series of posts from leading candidates vying for the fifth district seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Longtime Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich is being forced out by term limits after 36 years in office, and voters will go to the polls to select his successor starting on June 7. We asked these candidates to share their ideas on child welfare, juvenile justice, youth homelessness and education issues. To hear more about these issues, join us at a fifth district supervisorial candidates forum in Pasadena on May 10.
California State Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) represents the 29th Senate District covering portions of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties. Huff served as the State Senate Minority Leader and Senate Republican Leader from from 2012 to 2015.
Last year, Los Angeles County created the Office of Child Protection to ensure that child safety is embedded in all the county’s agencies and departments. What sort of child maltreatment prevention approaches and strategies should the county adopt and encourage to protect children?
I support the recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection (BRCCP), starting with development of a comprehensive prevention plan to reduce the overall incidence of child abuse and neglect as is currently in progress with the Department of Public Health and First 5 LA:
- Pairing a public health nurse with a Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) social worker in child abuse or neglect investigations of all children from birth to age 2.
- Promoting access to early childhood education learning programs for all children under the supervision of DCFS between ages 0 to 5.
Smaller caseloads for social workers are imperative.
I would encourage the full implementation and use of the Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System (E-SCARS) by all relevant agencies to ensure the cross reporting of every child abuse allegation to DCFS. I support ensuring that sufficient resources are made available to keep the E-SCARS system maintained and updated and that users are trained in its use.
In addition to the strategies above, in the legislature I’ve supported a number of measures to better meet the needs and promote safety of children in foster care. I authored Senate Bill 1136 with Senator Holly Mitchell. Private agencies now care for 15,000 children statewide, yet county child welfare workers were legally barred from knowing the facts involving criminal exemptions given to potential foster parents. This bill, signed into law in 2014, permits the California Department of Social Services (DSS) to share criminal history exemption information of foster care providers with county child welfare agencies, significantly enhancing DCFS’ ability to identify and protect children potentially at risk.
This year I am co-authoring SB 1201 with Senator Mitchell. It reduces unnecessary delays in relative placements for children in foster care and expands the availability of placements. California’s current laws relating to the criminal history of a prospective foster or kinship caregiver are overly broad and unduly restrictive. Some would-be foster parents are disqualified for a crime such as petty theft that happened decades ago.
Los Angeles County finds itself in a foster parent recruitment crisis: the number of foster parent applicants is down 50 percent over the last decade. What would you do to better recruit and retain foster parents in the county?
May is National Foster Care Awareness month and on Saturday, May 7, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., DCFS is sponsoring a Foster Care Expo to recruit foster parents and prospective adoptive parents. All indications are that DCFS is doing a responsible job in the area of outreach for foster parents. The drop-off that is driving the foster parent recruitment crisis and corresponding bed-space crisis seems more systemic than a function of failed outreach. There exist a number of factors that inform the foster-bed shortage, including the fact that the county presently lacks an accurate, real-time database of foster home vacancies. What data does exist appears to fail to list critical information like the number of beds available by gender and age range. While the system lists the capacity of the home, that is simply not sufficient information for effective, timely coordination.
Additionally, according to reports, social workers by and large are left to rely on their own resources, experience and contacts to find vacancies, which has resulted in a disparity in the effectiveness of those social workers with greater experience and those with less in terms of delay before placement of foster youth.
Low foster care reimbursement rates, particularly for young children, may need to be addressed as well. According to a recent study by Children’s Rights, a national foster care advocacy group, the state reimbursement rate would need to be increased some 61 percent to adequately offset foster families’ costs. More needs to be done to bring reimbursement rates for very young children up to a level that makes it feasible for foster families to perform this critical service for our children.
Los Angeles County has been confronted by a sharp uptick in homelessness. A large percentage of the homeless population are youth. How can the county better support these vulnerable youth and get them off the streets?
If we adequately address the issues raised in the other questions, we will have addressed the biggest challenges related to this question. Talking with a skid-row expert, he said that half our foster youth are on the streets within two years of being released from the system. This underscores a systemic breakdown in our care of foster youth. It speaks to poor self-esteem from being bounced around a broken system with not enough quality foster parents, not being trained for the workforce, which speaks to the failures of our educational system. Many have substance abuse issues, which speaks to the lack of intervention and behavioral treatment at an early age. This is exacerbated by our state (and county’s) policies that drive up costs of housing, drive away many businesses that create good-paying jobs. The recent increase in the minimum wage is an excellent example of raising a higher obstacle for kids trying to get their first job to gain experience and build a resume.
There are various community-based programs and organizations that do great work in seeking to support homeless families and children and we should do all we can to work with and help grow these NGO efforts.
Los Angeles County has the largest juvenile justice system in the country. According to a recent review of the Probation Department’s budget and practices, the yearly cost to the county for a youth at one of its juvenile halls was roughly $234,000. For a youth living in one of the county’s camps, a stay there comes to a little more than $200,000 a year. What would you do to lower costs and improve outcomes for the county’s embattled juvenile justice system?
Some progress has been made relative to the over-all administration of the county’s Probation Department as indicated by the conclusion of the federal monitoring of the county’s juvenile camps. Unfortunately, while the population of youths detained under the county’s probation department has dropped from 17,000 in 2011 to just 9,000 last year, the costs have increased dramatically. Much of the increase in cost has been attributed to the cost drivers associated with complying with federally mandated higher staff-to-youth ratios at the halls and camps. According to the department, the mental health, health and educational services required under the agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice are more intensive and costlier than those for other California counties.
However, as the recent review by the L.A. County Auditor-Controller’s office found, there is clearly more to be done to ensure that the department remains in compliance with federal requirements and to ensure that operations of the camps provide for the safe rehabilitation and education of youth offenders. The audit found, among other issues, that probation camp staff was not ensuring that youth offenders participated in required substance-abuse treatment programs and therapy for anger management and behavior issues.
There have been allegations of wasteful spending and mismanagement. As supervisor, I would be interested in an independent audit looking at the questions of waste and mismanagement, but also as to whether cost containments and efficiencies can also be identified. Also a comparative analysis could be undertaken of other counties with programs that achieve effective outcomes with a lower cost basis. I believe that improved outcomes can be achieved through ensuring that staff is fully trained and oversight is in place to ensure that youth offenders are able to participate in required substance-abuse treatment, mental health counseling and other education services proven to reduce recidivism.
As research has demonstrated, the educational outcomes for foster youth are much worse than those of their peers in the general population. What can the county Office of Education do to support the success of foster youth in schools?
As part of the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula, (LCFF), the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) is the tool by which schools engage parents, educators, employees and the community to establish effective educational plans for students. Each school plan must address eight specific state priority areas and establish goals and actions and annual assessments of how well the plans managed to improve educational outcomes.
A study of Los Angeles County’s 80 plus school districts’ LCAP identified a variety of innovative and promising practices targeted for foster youth. Some of these included the development of individual learning plans for each foster youth, hiring of case workers to specifically support foster youth, hiring of part-time targeted counselors dedicated to foster youth services at each school site – to name a few.
The L.A. County Office of Education (LCOE) can support the success of foster youth in L.A. County schools by ensuring school LCAPs incorporate actions and services that can be provided today to meet the needs of foster youth. Those plans include the five key areas of need for foster youth: school stability; academic supports and counseling; information sharing and data infrastructure; coordination of social-emotional supports; and early intervention.
Additionally, LCOE can continue to build strong partnerships between school districts to leverage resources and services. Fostering continuing education and professional development, LCOE can help shape training and resources for foster youth-specific staff as well as trainings on child welfare and foster care for educators, staff and administrators. Each year more than 4,000 foster children turn 18 and exit our system, but are not faring well as other young adults.
Our state has created a number of new programs to help with housing, college planning and financing, and job and financial counseling.
Nothing can surpass the need of foster youth to be nurtured in loving, safe homes. We must focus our efforts in recruiting stable foster families and financially support quality group homes that foster appropriate healing and safety for foster youth, who are difficult to place.
Stay tuned for responses from other candidate running for the fifth district seat on the on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors every day this week. You can RSVP for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Fifth District Forum on Children’s Issues by clicking here.