Saying the state has “a responsibility to do more and do better” on the behalf of foster youth during the pandemic, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $42 million relief package on Monday that will provide monthly checks to some families in crisis and prevent young adults from aging out of foster care during the ongoing pandemic.
The Democratic governor is setting aside nearly $28 million in monthly payments to families at risk of separation under the watch of the child welfare system. An additional almost $2 million will go to continue monthly payments and extend benefits for young adults turning 21. Nearly all of the $42 million is drawn from the state’s general fund, with only about $1.4 coming from federal funds.
Child welfare services have become “a vexing challenge” with “stay at home orders, which reduce and significantly limit the number of in-person visits as it relates to our child protective services,” Newsom said at a virtual press conference at noon.
Newsom said the state has targeted about 86,500 at-risk children in the state, including the 59,000 children and youth currently in care and about 25,000 families who are receiving family preservation services from county child welfare agencies. Families receiving emergency response and family maintenance services will receive a $200 monthly check to help weather the ongoing crisis presented by the coronavirus outbreak at a total cost of $27.8 million.
“We are providing an additional $200 a month for families that are most at risk,” Newsom said. “Thousands and thousands of families will get the benefit of that contribution to help with food and to help with other incidentals at a time again, of deep, deep need.”
Newsom also said 200 young adults age out of foster care at age 21 every month, and in the wake of the pandemic, the state should “extend the emancipation process” to prevent more of these youth from falling into homelessness and facing food insecurity. The governor’s plan calls for the state to spend $1.85 million to extend the eligibility and foster care payments to young people past their 21st birthdays.
It is not immediately clear how many youth this would cover and how long such support would continue.
“We appreciate Governor Newsom’s announcement that foster youth who turn 21 will be allowed to remain in their foster care placement instead of exiting foster care and facing potential homelessness during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Amy Lemley, executive director of John Burton Advocates for Youth, who was among leaders in the child welfare advocacy community who wrote a letter to Newsom and the state Legislature two weeks ago asking for an extension to the state’s extended foster care.
Alongside California Department of Social Services Director Kimberley Johnson, Newsom also included the following items in his plan:
- The state will set aside nearly $7 million to cover overtime for county social workers, as well as other special efforts social workers make to work with foster family caregivers who present a special risk for coronavirus infection, such as special protections for those older than 60.
- California will provide $3 million to support family resource centers, community hubs that provide services to prevent child maltreatment and that connect foster families to supports and services.
- Resource families — caregivers for foster youth that include both foster families and relative caregivers — will receive more support to help foster children avoid placement disruption and being moved into other foster homes or temporary shelters. The $1.73 million will provide higher monthly reimbursement rates to cover extra costs associated with supporting children with more complex needs.
- Newsom hailed the work of advocates like iFoster and John Burton Advocates for Youth, which have spearheaded a campaign to provide laptops and cellphones to foster youth. He approved $313,128 to help iFoster purchase 2,000 laptops and 500 cellphones to ship them more quickly to foster youth. Newsom is also instructing California’s Surplus Property Program to identify laptops that can be distributed to foster youth attending college.
- California will also use $250,000 to expand the the use of helplines like 2-1-1 and Parents Anonymous to offer assistance to families in crisis.
- Finally, the state will allow caregivers who take in a foster youth prior to being certified as part of the resource family approval process to continue to receive reimbursement in some situations. As a result, $166,000 in funding will go toward allowing caregivers to continue to be reimbursed beyond the 365-day deadline.
Jeremy Loudenback can be reached at [email protected].