SACRAMENTO – On Tuesday, October 23, Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), Chair of the Select Committee on Foster Care held a joint hearing with the Committee on Human Services.
Assemblyman Cooley was joined by Assemblymembers of the Committee on Human Services. The Assemblymembers heard from experts in the foster care system and former foster youth who shared their experiences with the system and provided insight on potential changes.
“I’m delighted to be at this joint hearing to look at how the system is working. Foster care does indeed matter.” said Assemblyman Cooley in his opening statements. “The purpose is to educate members. People who are experts can look at that complexity and see the simplicity that lies within.”
Wendy B. Smith, PhD, LCSW, highlighted many factors in foster youth experiencing mental health problems and the frequency of those mental illnesses versus the general population. Smith said that one-third of foster youth experience three or more placements, and some can experience eight of them. She added that more than 80% of children in care have a significant behavioral or mental health problem, which is four times the rate of children not in foster care, and that PTSD is reported in more than 25% of children in foster care. She noted that that rate is more than twice the rate of returning veterans and four times higher than the general population.
When asked by Assemblymember Cooley what one big thing would help caregivers in the foster care system, Katarina Kabick, a MSW student at UC Berkeley and former foster youth pointed to Ventura County’s foster parent mentor program, which provides seven to ten weeks of training around trauma, grief, and loss would impact stability.
Ben Johnson, Senior Fiscal and Policy Analyst at the Legislative Analyst’s Office, said that there are about 62,000 children in California’s foster care system. He added that in a given year about 40,000 foster youth children receive Medi-Cal specialty services; additionally, 50% of foster children will receive at least one specialty service from Medi-Cal, ten times the rate of non-foster youth.
Johnson highlighted that funding for mental health services for foster youth is indirect, in that nothing comes straight from the state to the youth; instead, funds are spent to specialty health care and to counties, who redistribute those funds to foster care. He added that realignment funds, the time-limited allocation of funding from the California Department of Social Services to caregivers, are a primary source of non-federal funding, and that any specialty care that a foster youth is going to use is going to be matched 50% by federal funds.
Kim Sunderman, LCSW, Consultant to the County Behavioral Health Directors Association, said that on funding, everything comes in arrears, with time lag. The Mental Health Services Act imposes a 1% income tax on personal income in excess of $1 million, and California’s Mental Health Services Oversight & Accountability Commission reported in 2016 that between Fiscal Years 04/05 and 13/14, $11 billion was collected for the Mental Health Services Fund. Fact sheet found HERE.
The issue of retroactive funding was raised by multiple speakers. Deborah Silver, Division Chief, of High Risk Services for Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services said that in 2008, a strategic plan was ratified in response to Katie A. v. Bonta; however, the plan included no central trajectory in the children’s mental health system or strategies to respond proactively to escalated mental health needs.
Additionally, coordinating communication and sharing data and case information between multiple agencies is a challenge. In September, Governor Brown signed Assemblyman Cooley’s AB 2083, directing the legislature to develop a coordinated, timely, and trauma-informed system-of-care approach for children and youth in foster care who have experienced severe trauma. AB 2083 requires counties to develop and implement a memorandum of understanding outlining the roles and responsibilities of agencies and other entities that serve children and youth in foster care who have experienced severe trauma.
Cathy Senderling, Deputy Executive Director for the County Welfare Directors Association of California, worked with Cooley on AB 2083, in order to better coordinate care for the highest need and most traumatized youth. She said she’s not bringing anything new to the table, but experts and the legislature needs to talk together about how to provide for the youth.
Video of the hearing can be found at: http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=5824
Assemblyman Ken Cooley represents the 8th Assembly District which includes the communities of Arden-Arcade, Carmichael, Citrus Heights, Rancho Cordova, Rancho Murieta, Rosemont, Wilton and other portions of unincorporated Sacramento County. For more information, please visit http://asmdc.org/members/a08/