Message from the Chair

July-August 2010

 I am happy to be sending you another issue of the Foster Care Reform Update. It's been awhile since our last, so I have a lot to share with you.

The Blue Ribbon Commission met in May to evaluate our progress on implementing the recommendations and to plan our priorities for the coming year. I was struck during the meeting by how much has been accomplished at the federal, state, and local levels that significantly advances our goals of changing the way juvenile courts do business and reforming the foster care system in California-accomplishments that have occurred despite the very serious budgetary and economic challenges. I believe that this progress demonstrates the transformative power of collaboration. As both chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission and co-chair of the Child Welfare Council, I have had a front row seat from which to observe this power in action, as all of our child welfare partners, both statewide and locally, have taken up the challenge of making a difference for our children in foster care. You all owe yourselves a big pat on the back.

Progress on Implementation
I'd like to share a few highlights of my activities this past year in my work with the commission. This just touches the surface, of course, and much of the exciting progress is happening at the local level with all of you.

  • First, though it has been a delight to have the opportunity to address child welfare organizations and collaborations all over the state as a representative of the commission during the past few years, I was especially pleased to be invited, thanks to Greg Rose (Deputy Director of the California Department of Social Services), to address the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators at the end of March this year in Washington, D.C. They asked me, along with Judge John Specia of the Texas Supreme Court's Permanent Judicial Commission on Foster Care (which sent a delegation to California in 2007 to meet with me and BRC staff on how to build a successful commission) to talk about partnering between the courts and child welfare for safety, permanency, and well-being. I heard from conference organizers that this may have been the first time the conference ever reached out to the courts. This signaled to me that the commission's work is beginning to have a national impact.
  • Second, with the help of Gary Seiser (a former Blue Ribbon commissioner), I invited county counsel from all over the state to join me in San Francisco a couple of months ago for a roundtable addressing one of our key recommendations, sharing information and data among child welfare partners. They spent a lively and productive day discussing how we can remove unnecessary barriers to the sharing of critical information on the needs of our children in foster care, while still preserving and protecting the confidentiality of their records. That roundtable spurred the planning of a few more meetings with different combinations of child welfare partners discussing information exchange. I am optimistic that this may be the beginning of our making some real headway on this important recommendation.
  • And, finally, as you all know, my own experience as a foster parent to my niece, Heather, has been a driving force in my work with the commission. My wife, Christine, and I got firsthand experience negotiating the complexities of a foster care system in crisis-made particularly difficult because our case involved an interstate compact, with lots of negotiating with New Jersey, where Heather was born, and California, where we live. I am happy to report that our adoption of Heather was finalized in Los Angeles on December 11, 2009, with my fellow Blue Ribbon commissioner, Judge Michael Nash, presiding.

Summit 2010
Of course the most recent notable event was our 2010 Summit in San Diego in early June. I was sorry to be out of state and miss the summit, but I heard from my colleague, Justice Richard Huffman, who represented the commission at the event, that it was a rousing success. This year's summit included teams from local family courts as well as the juvenile teams. We had family and juvenile teams here from 45 counties, totaling 403 team members. The teams were an amazing cross-section of the communities they represented. There were judges, mediators, family law facilitators, social workers, tribal representatives, CASA directors and volunteers, commissioners, county counsel, probation officers, social services directors, attorneys for parents and children, self help attorneys, foster parents, district attorneys, representatives from mental health services, court executive officers, representatives from education, public defenders-we even had superintendents of school districts and county supervisors. It was a rich mix of committed professionals trying to make a difference for the families and children in our state.

The family courts were included in the summit this year because the Elkins Family Law Task Force had recently issued its own recommendations to change the way that family courts do business. Participants in both the task force and the Blue Ribbon commission noticed that there were a number of crossover issues in the recommendations for systemic improvement adopted by both bodies, particularly in the area of child safety. We know that families in crisis can enter the court through a variety of doors, most often through the doors of the juvenile court or the family court. Some of them who come through the family court door have issues that may need to involve the juvenile court. And some of them who come through the juvenile court door have pending matters in family court. The need for those two courts to know and talk with each other seems clear - and I know that many of these teams already work together very effectively at the local level. But where I believe this grouping can really be powerful is through collaboration on access to resources. We all want the best for the families that come before us, and the services and resources we have to offer are limited. As we work together, I believe that we can be strong collaborative advocates for additional needed resources and together can maximize the benefits of those we have.

From what I hear, the morning session of the summit that had the juvenile and family courts talking about common issues of child safety was enthusiastically received. Then the teams separated and the local commission teams revisited their work plans from the first summit and planned for the coming year. I am personally very excited about the work that I hear is advancing the commission's recommendations through the local commissions statewide!

The Blue Ribbon Commission will be releasing an implementation progress report in August and we want to make sure to include the work that all of you are doing-this work at the local level has always been the key to successfully improving the dependency and foster care systems in this state. Please let your Juvenile Court Assistance Team (JCAT) liaison know what you would like to see included in the report.

Carlos R. Moreno
Associate Justice, Supreme Court of California
Chair, California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care

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