By Jim Roberts
I believe it goes without saying, it is far better for our communities to solve local needs rather than depend upon the government. Right now on the Central Coast there is a significant need to which our families and individuals need to rally to solve.
To put it bluntly, there are not enough individuals and families to care for and meet the needs of the children and youth in our local foster care system. These children and youth need our help.
The Family Care Network once had enough families to serve 150 or so foster youth. Now, we have about one third of that capacity. And all of our local foster care agencies are similarly impacted.
In 45-plus years, I’ve never seen a time such as this where it has become so challenging to recruit foster families, now called “resource families” in California. This shortage is not without serious consequence to our children.
Imagine what it must feel like for a child to be traumatized by abuse or neglect, traumatized by being removed from family, and then further traumatized when there isn’t a family available to care for them. It is not uncommon for a child taken into child protective custody be placed in a motel room with 24/7 supervision, or trucked out of county to an institutional shelter due to the lack of local foster families. These circumstances have become a new reality.
The need for resource families here on the Central Coast has been compounded by recent changes in public policy. California has embarked upon a sweeping overhaul of its foster care system. This overhaul entails limiting the use of group homes and institutional care for foster youth and increasing the use of family-based care. This change is wonderful news for foster children and youth, as it allows them to be in a family-based setting while remaining in their own school, close to their friends and family.
The downside of this reform process, however, is that there are not enough families to serve foster children and youth. There are close to 60 children and youth within SLO and Santa Barbara counties who need to be returned to our community in a family-based setting, further compounding our already scarce resources.
Let me dispel some of the “myths” about foster care.
• Foster youth are not “bad” or “problem” kids.
• Foster care is not long-term.
• Foster parents are not obligated to adopt their foster child.
• Foster parents are not left to fend for themselves — the Family Care Network provides intensive services and support to make sure families are successful.
• Any individual or family who meets legal requirements can become a resource family.
Resource families have many options to choose from, including emergency shelter care, where the parent receives children taken into protective custody; respite care, taking in foster children periodically or short-term to give another family a break; foster-adoption, receiving a foster child they would like to adopt; basic care of children pending family reunification or permanency placement, the most common form of foster care; and treatment family care, where they learn specialized skills to help foster children heal, participate in the treatment-team process, and receive intensive services and support in order to promote their success.
Foster children’s medical needs are completely paid for and the resource parents receive tax-free reimbursement to make sure they’re fully able to provide for the foster youth. Under California’s “reform,” resource parents’ reimbursement rates have been increased, and treatment family care reimbursement rates are designed to allow one stay-at-home parent.
Right now, more than ever, there is an opportunity for you to be part of solving a serious need on our Central Coast. The Family Care Network would be ecstatic to approve an additional 25-30 new resource families in both of the counties we serve.
If you have a heart for children, are a family with or wanting kids, single, or an “empty nester,” there is a child or youth who needs you. Please call (805) 781-3535 or toll-free (866) 781-3535, visit www.fcni.org; or email [email protected]
• Jim Roberts is the CEO and founder of Family Care Network, a community-based, not-for-profit organization serving children, youth and families on the Central Coast.