Newsom Inks Several New California Child Welfare Laws

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed bills that address higher education for foster youth, new diversion services for parents and protections for Native American children in care. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed off on about a dozen child welfare bills this year, including an effort to better support Native American children in the state’s child welfare system, diversion to help some parents avoid losing their children to foster care as a result of incarceration and rule changes to increase access to financial aid for foster youth in higher education.

Senate Bill 150 relaxes some requirements of the Chafee Education and Training Voucher, a mixed federal-state funding program that provides up to $5,000 per year to current or former foster youth to help with the costs of college. Now, recipients of this funding can receive more of the money at the start of the school year when advocates say it is more needed. The bill also provides less stringent academic standards related to maintaining the financial aid support and requires schools in the state to offer an appeal process and structured academic support for students at risk of losing access to the Chafee funds.

Assembly Bill 686 is aimed at helping to place more Native American foster children in Native homes whenever possible. According to the new law, foster home approvals that are conducted in accordance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act are not bound by the state’s sometimes-burdensome rules for resource family approval. The bill also mandates that counties and foster family agencies must apply “prevailing social and cultural standards of the Indian community” when approving a foster family for a Native child in the foster care system. The bill also instructs the state’s Judicial Council to facilitate the involvement of a Native child’s tribe in dependency court proceedings through better use of telephone or other communication technology.

SB 394 allows criminal courts in the state to offer pre-trial diversion to defendants accused of nonviolent, non-serious offenses if they serve as primary caregivers to children younger than 18. If prosecutors and public defenders are on board, the court can link these parents to supportive services instead of incarceration, a factor in some families losing their children to foster care.

AB 1235 will change the name of facilities currently named “runaway and homeless youth shelters.” Now they will be known as “homeless youth prevention centers” and will be able to serve youth who are at risk of homelessness and youth who are “exhibiting status offender behavior,” like curfew violations. Youth will now be eligible to voluntarily stay at a shelter for 90 days now. (Previously it had been limited to 21 days.)

AB 175 expands the state’s Foster Youth Bill of Rights to include recognition of sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, AB 175 also includes the right of foster youth to access substance abuse services as well as the freedom to refuse medication or chemical substances not prescribed by a doctor without penalty.

SB 436 codifies “family resource centers” in state statute, allowing the state’s Office of Child Abuse Prevention to create more opportunities to offer family-strengthening and child abuse services through centers in the state.

AB 1004 requires Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) screening services for children 0 to 3 covered by the state’s Medi-Cal system to include developmental screening services.

AB 1061 extends placement stability measures for probation-supervised foster children and youth. These include requirements for social workers and probation officers to develop a placement preservation strategy with caregivers and to notify specified children and youth at least 14 calendar days before a placement change occurs as a result of a caregiver request.

AB 1068 requires child and family team meetings for education-related issues for foster children, like whether a child should remain in their school of origin and how to create a transportation plan to remain in that school and participate in extracurricular activities. Under the new law, notes from these team meetings can be attached to court reports in some cases. Child and family team meetings are designed to ensure that important individuals who involved in a foster child’s life can contribute to certain decisions.

AB 677 changes state law for children adopted from foreign adoptions, including a “readoption process” designed to ensure foreign adoptees receive citizenship soon after arriving in the state from abroad.

Finally, AB 819 is another Continuum of Care Reform (CCR) clean-up bill that tackles issues like resource family home approval and intensive services foster care, among other issues. It also delays the date of final implementation of the revised CCR rate structure.

Gov. Newsom did issue a veto for AB 859, which would have studied caseloads for juvenile court judges. In a message, Newsom called the idea duplicative of the work of the state’s Child Welfare Council.

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