San Diego Grand Jury: County Foster Care Programs Need Measurable Outcomes

A recent grand jury report from San Diego County found that San Diego’s Child Welfare Service (CWS) and Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) lack a way to measure the effectiveness of county child welfare programs.

Without a way to determine how the San Diego County’s foster care alumni fare later in life, the grand jury called the county’s inability to demonstrate the long-term effectiveness of their programs and policies “a cause for concern,” according to a report released last month.

San Diego County spends about $353 million annually for child welfare services, adoption service and CWS assistance payments. The San Diego County taxpayers contribute more than $199 million to CWS out of this budget, according to the grand jury report.

The HHSA is an integrated agency with a service network that serves more than 3.2 million residents. Part of HHSA, CWS oversees nearly 7,500 children in the county’s foster care system.

After hearing testimony from county workers and researching other foster care systems, the grand jury recommended that San Diego County sponsor a comprehensive, university-sponsored research effort to examine the effectiveness of current CWS programs in shaping successful foster care alumni.

San Diego’s grand jury is charged with helping evaluate the performance of public agencies in county and providing recommendations that can make the agencies more effective. Every year members of the grand jury are nominated by San Diego County Superior Court judges. Members stay on the grand jury for one year.

The focus of the grand jury’s investigation was to examine whether there is a relationship between the funds used by CWS and the success achieved by county foster care children as adults. The grand jury reviewed existing national studies on foster care alumni and met with staff from the San Diego County Probation Department, HHSA and CWS.

According to the report, San Diego County currently does not collect data on the outcomes of foster care alumni because of privacy concerns.

Because of the lack of outcomes for foster youth in San Diego County, the grand jury reviewed studies from other counties in California and other states, such as Oregon and Iowa. From that review, the body identified steps that can help child welfare agencies support the success of youth exiting care, such as early CWS intervention programs that address behavior problems during care and the need for programs that help foster youth transition to adulthood.

The grand jury believes a long-term study on foster care alumni success in San Diego County can help CWS deliver better-quality and cost-effective services that shape successful adults. A comprehensive study would also outline the overall financial costs of foster care alumni who transition to general welfare programs after becoming adults.

The county is currently reviewing the grand jury’s comments and recommendations and has 90 days to submit a required response.

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Marisol Zarate
About Marisol Zarate 16 Articles
Marisol Zarate is a summer intern for Fostering Media Connections. She is a rising senior at Stanford University majoring in urban studies. After graduation, she aspires to attend law school and become a public defender.


  1. Thank goodness. Having been a foster parent for a short time, then realizing I would have to give it up. I agree whole heartedly. The San Diego system is deeply flawed and needs help. I believe with a revamped system they would be able to recruit more people to be involved in foster care and reunification and adoption if need be.

  2. The outcome for most former foster children is grim. Poverty stricken, risk of homelessness, lack of education, possible incarceration and contstanly having to return to the government for assistance. I am a former foster child. I live this nightmare of a life the system shaped, and for every step forward, I feel I am knocked back 10. I attempted in 1997 to join the military while on runaway status, this would’ve provided structure and secured educational funding. In fear of losing a massive amount, death benefit, SSA, SSI and VA collections… The system filed in court and can be verified through documents to deny release of guardianship to my recruiting officer. This move cost me a GI bill worth $90,000. It was only availble on an early entry model meaning once turning 18… The GI bill was not offered. It was for those entering at 17 1/2. Perfect example of the failures to actually secure the best interest of a child. It would have been a positive aspect of life for a foster child. Instead I have faced poverty, and homelessness constantly. Gaining assistance as a mother who had been redflagged for a future supply of generational case work for their system. They tried to take my children from the time they where born… I fought tooth and nail. It came to a point I felt my children where in less danger of being placed in a hell called foster care, I placed them with undeserving fathers who often failed to even pay child support. Now the fathers use my children as weapons, as pawns to further their abusive tactics. Way to continue the hell, I am now alienated from children I literally risked my own life through extremely high risk pregnancies to give them life. I have missed both of them growing up, thanks again DCFS (sarcastic tone applied here ^^^^^)

    • Lori, as a retired member of the Air Force, I can tell you the GI Bill is offered to all recruits. In the circumstance you describe, it may have been some kind of additional incentive but the GI Bill as a whole would not have been lost to you if you entered at age 18. In fact, if you still meet the age qualifications (not sure how long ago this was), you can still enter and build a better life for yourself. I am sorry for the experiences that you had while as a foster child. I can tell you that is not the goal of CPS. I agree a child’s best interest is sometimes lost but that also is due to state laws not just decisions made by CPS that they do have control over. I wish the best for you in your future.

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