California to Become 19th State to Ban Smoking in Foster Homes?

by Justin Pye

A proposed state bill would make California the nineteenth state to ban smoking in homes where foster youth live. Three county governments in California – Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz – have already enacted similar regulations.

Assemblyman Isadore Hall (D) introduced an addition to the state health and safety code that requires foster parents to maintain smoke-free homes, garages, bathrooms and cars.

“Children with troubled pasts are more likely to have health problems,” said Felipe Lopez, Hall’s government consultant, and “with second-hand smoke, these problems can increase.”

The bill was heavily influenced by research from the Public Health Law Center, which found that more than 300,000 foster children in the United States have at least one chronic medical illness, with respiratory conditions particularly common.

In 2005, Washington state passed a licensing regulation requiring all foster homes to be smoke-free. The regulation caused no noticeable impact on the number of applicants,  said Robbie Downs, a Washington foster care licensing program manager.

“It was not a major concern…The rule came into effect and folks complied,” said Downs. “If there is reasonable cause that the rule has been broken, there is a corrective action plan.”

Although the bill has no vocal opponents, there has been some contention over what the penalties will be.

In a worst-case situation under the Washington regulation, a foster home could lose its license. The California bill would make some punishments more severe, charging foster parents with misdemeanors for breaking the law, or “willfully or repeatedly” violating parts of the law.

Misdemeanor charges, though, would likely not be the first course of action. Lopez said that if a parent is not complying with the regulation, social workers “aren’t going to take the children away. They will work with the parents to find a solution.”

The California bill would be enforced by social workers who already perform home visits to check on foster children and their living conditions. Specific guidelines for penalties and enforcement will be discussed at the bill’s assembly hearing on Tuesday.

The California Alliance of Child and Family Services, a group that provides legislative advocacy for family service agencies, has not yet taken a position on the bill.

Senior Policy Advocate, Jackie Rutheiser said, “We all prefer that there be no smoking around any children, so we, in concept, support it.”

Justin Pye is a television production student at California-Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. He wrote this story as part of his coursework for a class called Journalism for Social Change offered at the Goldman School of Public Policy.

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