After the state passed two laws last year addressing the needs of “out-of-county” foster youth, California has rolled out new rules to support them, including better access to mental health services.
Currently, 13,313 foster youth in California are considered “out-of-county,” meaning that they have been placed in a different county than the one where they first entered the foster care system. About 22 percent of all foster youth in the state are in out-of-county placements, according to the Child Welfare Indicators Project at the University of California, Berkeley.
Out-of-county foster youth have long struggled to receive adequate mental health services, with counties failing to appropriately transfer responsibility and funding for those services.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1299, which a created rules for children in out-of-county placements, making it easier to distribute mental health funding from one county to another.
According to California Alliance of Child and Family Services Executive Director Carroll Schroeder, the new law solves a long-standing child welfare issue in California.
“A problem which for 20 years eluded solution has been elegantly, effectively and efficiently solved with the enactment of AB 1299 that mandates the county where a foster youth lives is responsible for his or her mental health care,” Schroeder said. “Now, all that remains is for counties and the state to implement the bill’s provisions in a way that ensures children and youth receive the mental health services they need and to which they are entitled.”
Another bill signed last year, AB 1688, requires social workers to notify a child’s attorney about out-of-county placements and allows children above the age of 10 to object to such placement.
In July, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) — the agency that oversees the state’s foster care system — announced rules that will help implement the changes for out-of-county foster youth.
A July 14 all-county letter signed by Karen Baylor of Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Services in the Department of Health Care Services, and Gregory Rose, deputy director of the Children and Family Services Division of CDSS, provides counties with policy guidance around out-of-county foster youth.
The letter highlights how various parties such as the child and his or her parent, the child family team (CFT) and other professionals should be notified about a potential out-of-county placement. CFTs, consisting of the youth, family members, professionals and community advocates, allow for organized collaboration between those invested in the child’s success.
A request to waive an out-of-county placement can be made within seven days if one of four exceptions are met: if the move causes a diminishment in mental health services for the child, if the move hampers family reunification efforts, if the move will last fewer than six months or if the move is located fewer than 30 minutes away from the child’s original county.
The letter also outlines the expected process for transferring responsibility for mental health services to the child’s new county placement.
A second all-county letter from CDSS explains certain steps social workers should take when a child is to be placed out of county under AB 1688. Now social workers must notify a parent and the child’s attorney. Foster children also have the right to object to an out-of-county placement. The letter also lists some reasons why an out-of-county placement might be an appropriate option for some children. For instance, a transfer could be beneficial if the child has more appropriate relatives who live in another county, or if the child’s special needs can be better fulfilled out of his or her home county.