Longtime youth advocate Angie Schwartz has been named head of California’s child welfare system, The Imprint has learned, bringing with her a considerable legacy of strengthening support for relative caregivers in the foster care system and federal policy expertise.
“Angie is passionate about improving the child welfare system to address disparities and inequities within the system and ensure that engagement with a family in crisis is done in a way that proactively supports the parent and child, values the child’s family and community, and promotes all aspects of wellbeing so that the child and family can heal and thrive,” California Department of Social Services Director Kim Johnson said in an internal memo late last month.
Schwartz, who currently serves as vice president of policy and advocacy for the Los Angeles-based Alliance for Children’s Rights, will replace Greg Rose as deputy director of the state department’s Children and Family Services Division.
Rose is leaving his post after 12 years but details on why were not immediately available. In her staff memo, Johnson thanked Rose for his “leadership, vision and dedication” and said California families have “tremendously benefited” from his service.
Schwartz will now oversee the nation’s largest child welfare system, serving roughly 60,000 children placed in foster care. County-run child welfare agencies in California also provide family preservation services to another 30,000 children in their homes.
During a decade with the nonprofit Alliance for Children’s Rights, Schwartz helped elevate the struggles of relative caregivers, family members who step in — often with little notice — to receive children in a moment of crisis. At the Alliance, Schwartz led the charge for greater support and services for kinship providers, primarily by increasing the financial assistance they receive.
“She’s been tremendously instrumental in pushing California to ensure that relative caregivers in particular are treated with parity to nonrelated caregivers,” said Cathy Senderling-McDonald, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California.
Until recently, many kinship caregivers were not eligible for state foster care benefits, with some receiving only a fraction of the funds that nonrelated foster parents receive. In 2014, a coalition of advocates, including the Alliance for Children Rights, successfully pushed the state to create the Approved Relative Caregiver Funding Option Program, which provided an optional state grant to counties to increase the amount of money available to relative caregivers.
The state went further in 2017 by providing the same financial benefits to all relative caregivers and foster parents under the state’s Continuum of Care Reform, which aimed to provide more family-based homes for foster youth, instead of placements in group homes. In recent years, Schwartz spearheaded efforts to address snags in the approval system for relatives that at times delayed foster care payments for months.
A Stanford University Law School graduate, Schwartz is known in the field for her criticisms of the Family First Prevention Services Act, before the landmark law was signed into law in 2018. The most significant child welfare legislation passed by Congress in a generation, it allows child welfare agencies to spend federal funds on prevention services for the first time and places strict restrictions on the use of congregate care facilities.
At the time, California child welfare advocates expressed concern about how the bill would affect the state’s own group home reforms, how it would impact relative caregivers and the limited scope of prevention services eligible in the new law. Schwartz was often the voice of opposition for the California contingent pushing back against the legislation, calling it “seriously flawed.”
“The goal of prevention should be to prevent abuse and neglect, not just prevention of entry into foster care,” she said on a webinar about the proposed legislation in 2016.
Now, as the deputy director of Children and Family Services for the state, Schwartz will be charged with implementing the law she once opposed. California will start enacting the Family First Act in October.
Senderling-McDonald said California counties will be well-prepared for a new child welfare landscape under Schwartz’s leadership.“She’s an astute compromiser and very experienced at working with stakeholders with different viewpoints to figure out how to thread the needle to get something done,” she said.