The Orange County Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care is launching a juvenile dependency girls' court on October 1. Led by the enthusiasm of Judge Carolyn Kirkwood, 30 participants have been selected initially, and Commissioner Jane Shade will preside over this innovative program for female foster youth runaways 12-18 years old.
Using a model that acknowledges the fundamental differences between male and female youth and their different life experiences and reactions, the commission hopes to improve outcomes for teenage girls and prevent or stem the rising tide of female delinquency.
The court is starting girls' court without any outside funding, but is working with the county health care agency to obtain ongoing funding through the Mental Health Services Act (Proposition 63).
Other notable projects include:
- The county commission launched a speaker's bureau to raise awareness of foster care in the community. The speakers will have expertise in child welfare, including judges, social workers, attorneys, CASAs, former foster youth, and representatives from the county health care agency, the Public Defender's Office, the Department of Education, and the Orange County Children and Families Commission.
- In addition to its parent orientation video, the commission is working on developing both an entry and exit packet of information and resources for parents. It hopes with the exit packet to prevent or reduce child re-entry into the foster care system.
- The commission is working on providing one-provider drug testing for parents. Parents often have to test two times a month for probation and another three or four times for the dependency court. This leads to missed appointments and additional stress for parents attempting to meet the needs of multiple programs and reunification requirements. A unified testing program could minimize delays and lead to quicker reunification.
- The Orange County court has a Children's Chambers in place, where children can be interviewed by their attorneys, and is seeing an increased number of children participating in proceedings.
- In Orange County parents sometimes had to sit for hours in court without contact with their attorneys because detention reports were not being delivered on time, causing significant delay in appointing attorneys because of the need to do conflict checks, etc. Engaging parents early in the process is key to successful reunification efforts, so the commission instituted a new routine: Department of Social Services now delivers all detention reports by 7:30 a.m. on the morning of the detention hearing, which allows attorneys to check in with parents early in the day to let them know what is happening.
- The commission is starting to develop an informational video on the delinquency process that is specific to Orange County procedures. Its liaison was able to provide five sample videos from other counties for the team to review.
- The commission will host a college fair this fall for 900 youth, age 13 and up, and their caregivers—it will have two tracks, one for youth and one for caregivers—with a goal of helping make college more accessible for these high-risk children.
For more information on the Orange County Blue Ribbon Commission, contact Kerry Doyle.
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