Children’s Court Involvement – History
Until February 2018, ABC-Learn board member Tyrone Cain worked to help potential and current relative caregivers navigate the court system and find critical resources such as no-cost support groups, legal and financial assistance, medical and mental health services, and other domains of need. Tyrone and ABC-Learn president Debra Greenfield stepped in to ask the Court’s permission to reopen the office and continue Tyrone’s work. Based on his outstanding reputation, the Court approved ABC-Learn’s request, and Tyrone has been assisting caregivers at the Court under the auspices of ABC-Learn since July 2, 2018.
The ABC-Learn Caregiver Center serves clients who are potential and current relative caregivers seeking to care for and/or visit the child, as well as those who have been granted the legal right to do so. Our clients are often grandparents but also aunts, uncles, adult siblings, and less frequently non-relative extended family members who have the child’s best interests at heart.
The sheer numbers of foster care children and youth under age 18 in LA County is astounding. During calendar year 2017, 170,054 children were referred to the child protection division of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for abuse, exploitation or neglect. Of these, 34,485 received child welfare services, and 21,015 were placed in out-of-home living arrangements such as foster care, group homes, and residential therapeutic homes.
Two juvenile dependency courts in LA County, one in Lancaster and the other in Monterey Park, are responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of children who have been, or are at significant risk of becoming, abused or neglected. Caseloads are high. Our senior court navigator is stationed at the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park.
Placing the child with a relative caregiver is preferred because it provides a sense of belonging, safety, stability, cultural identity and permanency. This connection is essential while the parent is completing the court-ordered case plan toward parent-child reunification. If the child cannot be safely returned to the parent in the allotted time frame and extensions, the court seeks a permanent placement through adoption, legal guardianship or permanent foster care. Relative caregivers are top candidates for temporary as well as permanent placement.
Wards of the court experience hardship when they are removed from a parent’s home. If an eligible relative caregiver is not readily identified, the child can be placed for a year or more in temporary foster care with strangers or in a group home, where foster youth are 2.5 times more likely to get involved in the justice system. Such placements can exacerbate risk factors and trigger negative behaviors in children already dealing with the trauma of abuse or neglect that led to their removal from home.
It is not unusual for foster children and youth to embark on a path to gang membership, drugs, violence, and homelessness. Cycling through running away, getting caught by police, violating probation and returning to juvenile detention, foster kids can find that the only adults taking responsibility for them are social workers, the police, probation officers and judges. They feel forgotten.
Moreover, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as unstable environments, cumulative stress and trauma before age 18 are considered a public health issue by the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies of both adults and children reveal strong associations between the number of ACEs an individual has experienced and the development of risk factors throughout the lifespan, including:
Inability to concentrate, poor academic achievement, poor work performance
Depression, mental illness, substance abuse, suicide attempts
Sexual activity before age 15, unintended pregnancies
Source: CDC-Kaiser ACE Study at www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/about.html
While placement with a relative caregiver is considered the happiest outcome, caregivers have to clear some tall hurdles before they are deemed eligible to provide the child with a safe, loving environment and receive foster care payments for doing so. Eligibility criteria are now more stringent with California’s implementation of new foster care reforms in January 2017.
Known as the “Resource Family Approval” (RFA) process, the reforms establish uniform procedures and equal payments for all caregivers in the foster care system. Although the new process has instituted training and supports for caregivers, the stricter standards require them to undergo a home inspection by the social worker, a psycho-social assessment, a criminal background check of all adults in the home, and an investigation for any allegations of child abuse or neglect. Moreover, caregivers who are already caring for children placed in their homes may have to complete the series of new criteria retroactively.
During 2017, the greater stringency of the RFA process created a backlog of applications to the LA County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). As a result, foster care payments were delayed, even for emergency placements on short notice, financially straining many caregivers in dire need of resources to support the children’s needs, including those with serious emotional and behavioral needs.
As of March 2018, California legislators had introduced new bills to alleviate many of the unintended consequences of the new RFA reforms. But the goal remains for all children living in the home of a relative caregiver or foster family in California to pass through the new RFA process by the end of 2019. In this context, everyone is strained—caregivers and social workers alike.
From https://www.dailynews.com/2017/12/24/amid-states-foster-care-reforms-relatives-can-face-obstacles/ - “Amid state’s foster care reforms, relatives can face obstacles” (Dec 2017)
Uniform approval process for “resource families” (RFA).
https://www.dailynews.com/2018/03/07/california-bills-target-lengthy-foster-parent-approval-process/ New legislation for relief (Mar 2018)