The 2017-2018 California budget signed this week by Governor Jerry Brown includes important new money to benefit children in foster care, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Child & Family Services.
The budget creates the Emergency Child Care Bridge, a new program to support the implementation of the Continuum of Care Reform, and will assist the state and counties in the recruitment of new resource families.
When word about the final action on the 2017-18 budget came out, County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said: “I am so happy that we will now be able to get new, and essential assistance, to resource families who want to provide loving homes for children in foster care, but are sometimes unable to because they can’t find and afford child care, especially in the short time they have to prepare after that phone call comes saying ‘OK, we’ve got a child for you!’ State legislators and the Governor deserve our deepest thanks for prioritizing this important emergency child care funding, which will help us to find homes for some of the state’s most vulnerable children.”
Many counties continue to struggle with declines in the available number of caregivers, in part due to positive outcomes as children exit to adoption and guardianship, and difficulty in recruiting working families.
In Los Angeles County alone, state-licensed homes have declined by more than half, from more than 8,000 in 2005 to fewer than 4,000 in 2015.
Said Acting Director of Los Angeles’ Department of Children and Family Services Brandon Nichols: “In Los Angeles County, we are working hard to address a shortage of foster homes, and the ability to immediately provide quality child care will help us address the challenges new resource families face when asked to provide a safe and loving home for a child in need. The Emergency Child Care Bridge program is sure to help. We are grateful to the State Legislature and Governor for prioritizing foster children in this year’s budget.”
When abused and neglected children are removed from their homes, often they are in a state of crisis, and providing stability and routine are key to helping them recover. A challenge for many potential resource families, who would otherwise be in a position to provide that stability, is the lack of child care.
“I regularly hear from foster and relative caregivers that their greatest need is help with the cost of child care,” Nichols said. “Many cannot accept placements or continue to foster because of their inability to cover these costs. Recruiting new foster and kinship homes will be more feasible now that working families know they will be supported,” said Jennifer Rexroad, executive director of the California Alliance of Caregivers.
The Emergency Child Care Bridge will provide up to six months of child care for a resource family administered by the counties.
Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California, speaking on behalf of the counties who will be running this program, said: “With the child care bridge, the Governor and Legislature have created a pathway for more foster parents to open their homes and hearts to take in abused and neglected children. This will ensure that the child can be stabilized in the best possible placement and be supported in a trauma-informed child care setting.”
Denyne Micheletti, CEO of California Alternative Payment Program Association, said: “This program is visionary in nature in that it takes into account the real needs of families that are willing to open their homes to a child in crisis, and says to them ‘we are here to support you’ as you take on this tremendous challenge. Furthermore, it does so in such a way as to not take away child care from other fragile populations that too have a need. Truly a win-win for all.”
A key part of the proposal is the inclusion of a child care navigator to help the resource family identify the long-term child care plan and immediate options for the child.
The importance of the navigator role was best captured by Donna Sneeringer of the Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles: “We are so pleased with the addition of a Child Care Navigator. This pivotal role will provide additional support to foster families as they develop a child care plan for the child in their care. The Navigator will also work to identify longer-term child care subsidy options where possible, which will best meet the needs of both the foster family and the child.
A further provision of the Emergency Child Care Bridge delivers trauma-informed training to child care programs that will serve foster children.
“Children in foster care have not only experienced trauma caused by the removal from their home, but also the trauma of the original experience of abuse or neglect that first brought them into the child welfare system in the first place,” said Susanna Kniffen of Children Now.
“Trauma-informed child care can ensure that children recovering from abuse and neglect are supported throughout their day and prevent additional displacements,” Kniffen said. “This proposal takes a holistic approach to addressing the child care needs of children in foster care and the resource families who take them in.”
Even members of the business community championed the Child Care Bridge because of its targeted supports.
“We applaud the Governor and the State Legislature for funding essential, integrated long-term foster child care support,” said David Rattray, executive vice president, Center for Education Excellence and Talent Development, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Doing so is not only the right thing to do, but is good business practice,” Rattray said. “Assisting parents and guardians with care allows for more productive employees who can better meet their family’s needs. And that benefits everyone.”
“This victory will help so many wonderful families step up to care for children in need of homes,” said Angie Schwartz, policy director for the Alliance for Children’s Rights. “No longer will such families be hindered by the high cost of child care and extended delays in waiting for subsidized childcare. The bridge program alleviates stress during the initial months of a new
placement, helping the child and family settle into a stable routine.”
The program will begin on January 1, 2018, with $15.5 million in the first year and $31 million on-going to support the child care vouchers, navigators and trauma-informed training.
The Emergency Child Care Bridge Proposal was supported by a broad coalition of stakeholders including Alliance for Children’s Rights; California Alliance of Caregivers; California Alternative Payment Program Association; Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles; ChildrenNow; Los Angeles County; Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services; County Welfare Directors Association of California; Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce; and USC Children’s Data Network.