Opinion: State Funding is Crucial for Helping Foster Children Thrive

The Mercury News | May 23, 2023

By: Frederick J. Ferrer

Now is the time to build a better ecosystem of nurturing support and services for these children, teens and our young adults

Children enter foster care due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. This can be a severely traumatic event having a lasting negative impact. Children are being removed from their family through no fault of their own. Sadly, many families are not reunified, leaving children who enter foster care with few alternatives including remaining in the system until they age out. In California, 40% of youth in foster care experience homelessness within 18 months of leaving the system, and 40% are unemployed by age 24. This is alarming but not surprising given the level of trauma these youth have endured.

In Santa Clara County, the number of children entering foster care has decreased as a result of the policy to offer prevention services that focus on keeping children safely with their families to avoid the trauma that results when children are removed. With measures in place to keep families together, children who now enter foster care have undoubtedly suffered severe trauma.

Although the number of children entering foster care is decreasing, there is still the challenge of disproportionality. Over 80% of the children in our local foster care system are children of color, 65% of which are Hispanic. This is a gross overrepresentation. Only 34% of the children in Santa Clara County are Hispanic. There are also a disproportionate number of black and LGBTQ+ youth in the system. As we put measures in place to keep families together, we should do so through a social justice lens to ensure children of color and LGBTQ+ youth are not treated differently.

Now is the time to build a better ecosystem of nurturing support and services for children, teens and our young adults in foster care.

ACEs Aware, an initiative of the Office of the California Surgeon General, developed a model of evidence-based strategies to help children heal from having experienced trauma. Essentially, to help a child heal from their adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), they must have regular exposure to positive childhood experiences in these seven areas: supportive relationships, quality sleep, balanced nutrition, physical activity, mindfulness practices, access to nature and mental health care.

Providing children in foster care with positive childhood experiences takes an entire community willing to volunteer as trained Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) to work one on one with children in foster care. It takes local agencies who are willing to offer free programming, services and resources. And it takes government agencies willing to provide housing vouchers, CalFresh and health care for youth aging out of foster care. Helping a child heal will undoubtedly lead to better outcomes.

It also takes funding. Last year, the California Legislature approved $60 million in funding over three years to California CASA — an association that provides direct support to 44 local CASA programs in 51 counties across California. The first of its kind, this state allocation is going to be the catalyst for creating a better statewide ecosystem of nurturing support and services.

However, as California grappled with a $22.5-billion projected budget deficit, the remaining $40 million was slated to be cut until Gov. Gavin Newsom reinstated it in his May revised budget. This is the leadership our state’s most vulnerable children deserve.

As the operator of the CASA program in Santa Clara County, we applaud the governor’s decision and call on our Sacramento representatives to follow his lead and pass his budget in support of children in foster care and help youth in our county’s foster care system thrive.

Frederick J. Ferrer is CEO of Child Advocates of Silicon Valley.

View this article in The Mercury News.