Los Angeles County’s two intake facilities for foster children have seen “alarming” increases in the number of children served, according to a preliminary report released Monday by the Commission for Children and Families.
The commission blames these increases at the county’s so-called Welcome Centers on the lack of sufficient foster homes and emergency shelter beds in the county. In its just-released report, the commission is recommending a slew of solutions, from aggressively increasing foster home recruitment to making better use of existing emergency shelters to adding staff.
According to data provided by the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the report states that 3,680 children entered the centers from January to June 2015, a 40 percent increase. Entries of infants and children rose by nearly 71 percent in the second quarter, as compared to the first quarter. Repeat entries of adolescents was also of concern to the commission, with a 41 percent increase in the second quarter over the first.
In its examination of what causes these children to experience long or repeated stays in the Welcome Centers, the commission identified four key barriers to finding suitable placements for foster youth: an insufficient number of foster homes available for very young children and for older youth with serious mental health needs; an insufficient number of emergency shelter care beds available, especially for babies and very young children; an insufficient number of intensive treatment foster care placements; and a lack of supports to enable foster caregivers to successfully care for children with severe mental health needs.
The Children’s Welcome Center and the Youth Welcome Center opened in 2012 and 2014, respectively. DCFS is in the process of seeking licenses for both centers, which the state will then classify as 72-hour transitional shelter care facilities for a period of up to three years.
Currently, the centers are unlicensed and may only hold a child for 23 consecutive hours. They also lack sufficient restroom and dormitory facilities, according to the report.
The commission’s report and facility licensing issues coincide with the final stages of California’s Assembly Bill 403, or California’s Child Welfare Continuum of Care Reform (CCR), which seeks to “phase out” centralized or group home facilities for young people in foster care.
“We urge the county to use this three-year period to design and transition to a system in keeping with the direction and vision of the state and CCR, addressing not only the current crisis, but also the underlying problems of youth coming into care and those with serious mental health needs who require re-placement,” the report reads.
The commission is recommending that the county begin using the welcome centers as a means to immediately treat trauma, rather than simply as holding facilities where children and youth passively await placement. The commission found that 90 percent of children under the age of 12 awaiting re-placement suffered from some type of mental health issue; the percentage of youth over the age of 12 was 85.
The report advocates for a countywide system of “trauma-informed care,” which it defines as “the organizational structures and processes that involve understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma.”
The report also suggests that the county convene a multi-disciplinary steering committee under the newly established Office of Child Protection. The steering committee would develop implementation plans (for a foster care recruitment strategy, for example) and further recommendations for the county.
“With the contextual changes – the recent settlement agreement related the centers, the bill to phase out centralized care facilities – we saw an opportunity for the county to take this next three years to begin planning and hopefully implementing better policies for children entering care. Resources are going to be invested one way or another,” said commission member Wendy Smith.
“We hope some of the smaller pieces of our recommendations might be taken up more quickly because they can make a difference in the lives of kids in the short term,” Smith said.
The Commission on Children and Families intends to submit a final version of its report to the county’s Board of Supervisors for consideration in the coming weeks.
This story was updated at 5:45 pm to include comment from Wendy Smith.