In March 2006, Chief Justice Ronald M. George established the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care. A wide range of participants with expertise in child welfare made up the commission, including judges, legislators, child welfare directors, tribal leaders, and foster youth. The commission was charged with providing recommendations to the Judicial Council on ways in which the courts and their partners can improve the safety, permanence, well-being, and fairness outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system.
At the time, there was a pressing need for reforms in the foster care system. In 2006, more than 78,000 children were in foster care in California. More than half of these children had been in the system for more than two years, and many of them had lived in multiple foster homes and were separated from their siblings, with no sense of stability or of belonging to a family or community. Although the juvenile courts are vested with providing protection and supervision for children in foster care, juvenile dependency judges and attorneys were overwhelmed by the sheer number of cases.
In 2008, the Blue Ribbon Commission issued its recommendations for sweeping reforms to the state’s juvenile dependency courts. The Judicial Council unanimously accepted these recommendations, and in June 2009, the Chief Justice extended the commission for three years and added implementation activities to its charge.
The recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission fell into four areas:
In August 2010, the Blue Ribbon Commission issued a report that noted progress in several key areas. Early indications are that active court oversight and better representation in the juvenile dependency courts is already making a significant difference for the children and families who enter the child welfare system. Commission members believe that much of this progress is due to the collaborative efforts of all the state’s child welfare partners, including the courts, social services, court-appointed special advocates, Native American tribes, and philanthropic organizations.
Local foster care commissions are now active in more than 40 counties. These local commissions are working in their communities to identify and address the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission and to build the capacity to provide necessary services to children and families in the foster care system. The Administrative Office of the Courts is providing ongoing support to these local commissions through its Juvenile Court Assistance Team (JCAT).
Beginning in January 2012, a new law will give foster children turning 18 the opportunity to remain in supervised care until age 21 with federal assistance. The California Fostering Connections to Success Act (AB 12) will require youth choosing this option to attend school, college, or career-oriented programs or to work a minimum of 80 hours a month in order to receive funding. The bill also provides transitional housing support until age 21 to those who qualify. This legislation gives young adults in foster care a leg up; previously, youths who remained in care at 18 were often released on their own with few resources.
The number of children in foster care continues to decease. This trend, which began in 2000, has continued in most counties and accelerated in others. In Los Angeles County, the foster care caseload dropped from 25,000 children in 2007 to 18,000 in 2011. Alameda County had a caseload of 5,000 foster care children in 2007; by 2011, this number had fallen to 1,500. Statewide, the number of children in foster care has decreased from 75,000 in 2008 to 63,000 in 2011.
This decrease in the number of children in foster care creates a positive cumulative effect: As courts and social services have more resources to deal with each individual foster child, they are more likely to find a permanent resolution to each case. This takes more children out of the system—which then frees up additional resources. In a time of reduced funding, the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care has created a flourishing collaboration among the juvenile courts and all their partners to further the welfare of children in foster care.
SOME FACTS ABOUT FOSTER CARE IN CALIFORNIA
Sources for these statistics can be found on the California Courts website.