Commissioner Curt Child: Legislative Update on Foster Care Issues

July-August 2010

Curtis Child joined the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) as the director of the Office of Governmental Affairs (OGA) in November 2007. OGA represents the judicial branch on legislative, policy, and budget matters. He has been a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care since its inception in 2006. Immediately prior to joining the AOC, Curt was the principal consultant to the Assembly Human Services Committee where he analyzed legislation concerning child welfare, foster care and developmental disabilities. Previously, Curt was a senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) lobbying the California Legislature on issues impacting poor, abused, and neglected children. Prior to that he was appointed by Governor Davis in 2000 to serve as the first director of the newly-created California Department of Child Support Services, where he oversaw for nearly five years the restructuring of the California child support program and the annual collection and distribution of more than $2.3 billion in child support payments. He also served as the principal consultant to the Assembly Human Services Committee in the late 1990s, where he worked on California's welfare and child support reforms. Prior to joining the Human Services Committee he was an attorney for 12 years with various legal services programs litigating and advocating on health, disability, welfare, and child support issues. He received his J.D. degree in 1984 from McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.

As all of you know too well, this has been a tough budget year and things are still uncertain for the next fiscal year. Since we don't have a budget yet, I can't give you a full analysis of the coming year, but based on the Governor's May revise, it does look like we may be able to avoid statewide monthly court closures and we hope that the new budget will preclude the need for court layoffs. Both the Assembly and Senate Budget subcommittees have approved a package of solutions for funding the courts on 2010-11. The solutions include a $100 million restoration of funding cut this year, $130 million in fund transfers from funds such as court construction, and approximately $100 million in new fees and fine revenue. However nothing is final until the budget is actually signed. I have no predictions when that will be however.

On the child welfare front, I am happy to say that the Legislature has shown a commitment to restore the $80 million in child welfare funds from the General Fund that were vetoed by the Governor last year (using his line item veto power). We won't know the final resolution of this issue either until the budget is signed.

Both houses of the Legislature have announced that they will not be taking a recess because of the ongoing work on the Budget, but members will be returning home to their Districts in order to eliminate the need to pay them per diem costs. Leadership in both parties and both houses will be meeting with the Governor on the Budget, and it is too soon to predict what the outcome will be, but I will keep you posted.

The legislation we are all watching closely is, of course, AB 12 (Beall and Bass), which would implement the extension of foster care support to age 21 and also creates a federally funded guardianship program to replace Kin-GAP. It is moving along in the Senate despite its fiscal implications-it just made it to the Senate Appropriations Committee. There is strong bipartisan support for the bill based on the wide consensus that it is the best policy for California. Currently AB 12 has 44 Assembly and 13 Senate co-authors signed on to the bill. We will all be watching it closely in the coming months.

We do have some encouraging news on the legislative front, though, despite these tough economic times. Two key conditions have shaped the legislative climate in this 2009-10 legislative session: first, the many fiscal challenges; and second, passage of the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. The federal legislation has resulted in some encouraging activity that we probably would not have seen without it. We are now in the second year of the session and were actually able to see some state legislation chaptered in the 2009 session that does advance the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission. Other legislation that will, if passed, also advance the commission's recommendations is still pending. I have listed some of the key legislation below.

State Legislation—Chaptered
AB 131 (Evans) Juvenile proceedings: costs
Status: Chaptered by the Secretary of State, Chapter Number 413, Statutes of 2009
Authorizes the Judicial Council to implement a cost recovery program to collect reimbursement from parents for the cost of dependency counsel, and directs that the recovered funds be used to reduce caseloads for dependency attorneys.

AB 154 (Evans) Adoption assistance: federal law
Status: Chaptered by the Secretary of State, Chapter Number 222, Statutes of 2009
Conforms California law to recently enacted federal law changes by requiring the Department of Social Services to reinvest any savings realized from expansion of adoption assistance payments on services for foster and adopted youth, including post-adoption assistance and requiring the Department of Social Services or a licensed adoption agency to inform prospective adoptive families about their potential eligibility for state and federal adoption tax credits.

AB 665 (Torrico) State adoption services: investment
Status: Chaptered by the Secretary of State, Chapter Number 250, Statutes of 2009
Requires the state to reinvest adoption incentive payments, received through the implementation of specified provisions of federal law, into the child welfare system, in order to provide legal permanency outcomes for older children, as specified.

AB 770 (Torres) Indian tribes: foster care and adoption programs
Status: Chaptered by Secretary of State - Chapter 124, Statutes of 2009.
Directs the Department of Social Services to negotiate in good faith with an Indian tribe, organization, or consortium in the state that requests development of an agreement with the state to administer all or part of the federal foster care programs under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act on behalf of Indian children who are under their authority.

AB 938 (Committee on Judiciary) Relative caregivers and foster parents
Status: Chaptered by the Secretary of State, Chapter Number 261, Statutes of 2009
Requires social workers and probation officers to immediately investigate the identity and location of all adult grandparents and other relatives of a child after the child is detained, and notify the relatives that the child has been removed from his or her parents, and the means by which the relative might participate in the care of the child.

AB 1325 (Cook) Tribal customary adoption
Status: Chaptered by the Secretary of State, Chapter Number 287, Statutes of 2009
Establishes tribal customary adoption as a permanency option for Indian children. Defines tribal customary adoption to be adoption without the termination of parental rights. Requires the Judicial Council, by July 1, 2010, to adopt rules of court and necessary forms to implement tribal customary adoption. Requires the Judicial Council to study implementation of tribal customary adoption and report to the Legislature by January 1, 2013.

AB 1393 (Skinner) Foster youth
Status: Chaptered by the Secretary of State, Chapter Number 391, Statutes of 2009
Requires the California State University to give priority for campus housing that is available most of the calendar year to current and former foster youth, and requests that the California Community Colleges and the University of California do the same.

SB 597 (Liu) Child welfare services, foster care services, and adoption assistance
Status: Chaptered by the Secretary of State, Chapter Number 339, Statutes of 2009
Requires the Department of Social Services to develop a plan for the ongoing oversight and coordination of health care services for a child in foster care, and to do so in consultation with pediatricians, health care experts, and experts in and recipients of child welfare services.

State Legislation—Pending
AB 12 (Beall and Bass) California Fostering Connections to Success Act.
Status: Senate Appropriations Committee
Implements federal foster care reform legislation to provide federally subsidized relative guardianships, and extend foster care jurisdiction to age 21.

AB 743 (Portantino) Foster care: sibling placement.
Status: Senate Judiciary Committee
Modifies the standard for sibling visitation to require a visitation order to be made unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the interaction is contrary to the safety or well-being of either child. Requires the social worker to notify the child's attorney 10 days in advance of a proposed change in placement that will result in a sibling separation.

SB 962 (Liu) Prisoners: adjudication of parental rights: participation.
Status: Assembly Appropriations
Would provide that an incarcerated parent who has either waived the right to be physically present at proceedings to which they are entitled to be transported or who has not been ordered by the court to be present at the proceeding may be given the opportunity, at the discretion of the court, to participate in the proceeding by videoconference or teleconference, if that technology is available, as long as the parent's participation otherwise complies with the law.

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