Round-up of California Foster Care Legislation for 2016

Originally published by Witness LA on September 28. This was part of a longer round-up of California legislation on Witness LA.

Bills to Protect Vulnerable Foster Children from Doctors Who Prescribe Psychotropic Medications at Alarming Rates

The newly signed SB 1174 by Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) will trigger regular reports on physicians and their prescribing patterns of psychotropic medications, making it easier for the Medical Board of California to confidentially identify, conduct investigations of, and hold accountable doctors who over-prescribe psychotropic drugs to foster children. (For backstory, read Karen de Sá’s five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids,” which inspired SB 1174 and a number of other reform bills and policy changes.)

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed another bill that would have increased the requirements for juvenile court authorization of psychotropic meds for child welfare system or probation-involved kids. SB 253 by Sen. William W. Monning (D-Carmel) would have required, among other safeguards, second medical opinions for prescriptions to foster kids under five, or in cases of multiple prescriptions. Brown called the bill “premature” in a veto message, and said he wants to wait to see the impact of new juvenile court medication authorization rules from a bill signed last year. 

Another newly signed bill, SB 1060, aims to reduce the number of siblings separated during adoptions. Far too often, siblings are split up in foster care and during adoptions and lose contact with each other, despite research showing that placing siblings together during their time in foster care improved academic and adoption outcomes. The bill, authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), will require pre-adoption meetings between children being adopted, the prospective parents, the sibling(s) and facilitators to try to increase the number of voluntary visitation agreements to keep separated siblings connected after adoption.

AB 1299, also signed by Brown, will ensure foster kids transferred outside of their home counties receive continued mental health services in their new counties. Under current law, the responsibility (and funding) to provide mental health treatment remains with their home county, leaving kids to face months-long interruptions in treatment.

Combatting Human Trafficking

The newly signed SB 1322 by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) – the “No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute” bill — aims to shield trafficked children from prosecution and criminalization.

“The law is supposed to protect vulnerable children from adult abuse, yet we brand kids enmeshed in sex-for-pay with a scarlet ‘P’ and leave them subject to shame and prosecution,” Mitchell said.

Last year in L.A. County, Sheriff Jim McDonnell instructed department members to treat the “child victims and survivors of rape,” as the victims they are, not as lawbreakers and “prostitutes,” and that the department would be going after traffickers and johns who victimize kids.

SB 1129, also by Sen. Monning, will get rid of some mandatory minimum sentences for prostitution-related crimes, giving judges discretion in sentencing people taking part in or soliciting prostitution. Existing law requires mandatory minimum sentences of 45 or 90 days in jail for repeat offenders.

Brown also signed SB 420, a bill that will create a legal distinction between adult buyers and sellers of commercial sexual acts, as well as solicitors of sex from minors. The bill will improve data collection on sex trafficking with the intent of helping legislators and policymakers make data-informed decisions, and aiding law enforcement in better directing their resources.

“By U.S. State Department estimates, sex trafficking is a $32 billion industry in this country and 50 percent of trafficking victims are minors,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Bob Huff (R-San Dimas). “Yet according to the 2007 Final Report of the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force, California lacks comprehensive statistics on human trafficking. SB 420 will help collect the statistics that law enforcement needs.”

Assm. Miguel Santiago’s AB 1276 will make it possible for kids under 15 to testify against exploiters in a separate location via closed circuit television, away from the defendant(s), jury, attorneys, or judge.

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