Foster Youth Group Pushing Foster Home Evaluation System

by Stephanie Shimada

A foster youth empowerment group in California wants the state to institute an evaluation system for foster homes.

With the aim of improving quality of care and outcomes for foster youth across California, the California Youth Connection (CYC) proposed legislation in January that would develop and implement a foster parent evaluation system.

CYC announced today that the foster care evaluation bill, named Assembly Bill 196, is scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday, April 30. If passed, the bill will enable foster youth to provide feedback on care received in foster and group homes.

“There is not a lot of room for youth voice in the way the system is built now where their wants, needs and desires are heard,” CYC Policy Coordinator Crys O’Grady said in an interview. “This bill will help provide youth with a space to have their input considered.”

The evaluation bill, which was proposed by Assembly Member Allan Mansour (R) in January, would require the State Department of Social Services in consultation with the County Welfare Directors Association to provide more oversight on caregivers by means of a formal, consistent system for care by January 1, 2015.

Specifically, the proposed bill would allow foster youth over the age of 10 and non-minor dependents to provide feedback on their homes every six months and upon exit from any of their homes. It would also include the creation of an evaluation tool in tandem with current and former youth, and caregivers.

The bill has been modeled after the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center’s Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI), which strives to improve quality of parenting of caregivers, and rebrand the foster care system.

The initiative has been implemented in 18 counties in California, 16 jurisdictions in Florida, and was recently expanded into Nevada. Florida has simultaneously proposed a similar bill.

By giving foster youth a voice, CYC believes an evaluation tool can help form more compatible parent-child matches. O’Grady cites how such a tool will help better match children who struggle with issues such as healthcare, education and juvenile justice with the parents who can support those needs.

“Some foster children may need more educational support, for instance, than others. The caregiver evaluation will help us know what type of educational support each caregiver is able to give, and how much or how little,” O’Grady said.

Additionally, CYC hopes the bill will help change placement processes from focusing on merely finding children an “open bed,” to matching children with foster parents who are nurturing and positively affect their lives.

Currently, the system favors parents who are good for the system rather than good for the child, according to Ben Baeder, a foster parent and a journalist with the Los Angeles Daily News.

“Right now, a good foster parent is just someone who is good according to the system,” Baeder said. “The system just wants them to be safe.”

However, Baeder believes foster parents should provide more than just a safe home – they should help foster childhood development.

“If [the child] is not showing any improvement emotionally and academically, it was probably not a good home,” Baeder said.

Good foster parenting goes beyond providing a safe environment for the child, O’Grady said.

“I think it is important [for foster parents] to have the ability to support the youth through their past experiences, and enable them to have connections with other people, such as family and social workers,” O’Grady said. “Also, they should encourage them to be an advocate and provide a safe home for them to be able to do that. And make them feel like part of the family.”

Stephanie Shimada 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.

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