Child Care Program Could Bridge Gap for Foster Families in California

California is finally one step closer to supporting foster parents – now referred to by the state as “resource families” – by addressing one of their top needs when stabilizing abused and neglected children: child care.

Introduced by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Oakland), Assembly Bill 1164 would establish the Emergency Child Care Bridge program. The bill passed unanimously through committee last Friday, and the program is also advancing through the budget process. It is one of many proposals being considered to be funded in the final version of the upcoming 2017-18 state budget. Resource families, parenting foster youth, and counties are hoping that the funding associated with the Emergency Child Care Bridge program remains once final budget negotiations conclude in a few short weeks. The California Legislature has until June 15th to send a budget to the governor.

If approved, the Emergency Child Care Bridge program would provide resource families and parenting foster youth in California with an immediate child-care voucher for children ages 0 to 5 living with them. The program would also provide a child-care navigator for these families and trauma-informed training to child-care providers. The Emergency Child Care Bridge program will cost $31 million and will be administered at the county level. Investment in the program will save money by keeping children out of congregate care and in the most appropriate placements.

This program is desperately needed by thousands of resources families struggling to balance work and parenting.

When abused and neglected children are removed from their home, they are in a state of crisis and need to be immediately stabilized in the best possible placement. Sadly, children are often placed in transitional shelter care rather than being immediately placed with family or in another family setting. On May 24, 11 children ages 0 to 5 were in transitional shelter care in L.A. County. Most will be transitioned to live with a relative or another resource family, but some will go to a group home. In many cases, resource families were not able to take these vulnerable children into their homes because of the cost of child care, according to placement denials reported by counties. But many working families are willing and able to provide a loving home for children in foster care—as long as they receive help with the cost of child care.

At least nine states, including Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and Washington, provide child-care assistance to working foster and kinship parents. One relative caregiver in Sacramento was shocked to learn that California resource families did not automatically receive help for child-care expenses. She received immediate help from the state of Washington when she took out-of-state placement of her three grandchildren.

Many relative caregivers in California have signed placement agreements to care for their kin assuming that the state will cover the cost of child care, especially if the child is already enrolled in a program and is receiving a child-care subsidy. It comes as a surprise that they are immediately responsible for the cost of child care for the vulnerable children that they agree to care for.

Timing is the primary issue that needs to be addressed. It is not possible for most resource families to access immediate funding for child-care expenses. State child-care programs have long waitlists and usually have short enrollment windows that do not align with the time of placement. If given immediate help with child care, many more resource family homes would be available for the growing population of children ages 0 to 5 entering foster care.

The Emergency Child Care Bridge program is not an entitlement; it is a time-limited bridge to longer-term child-care solutions. It would be used at the time of placement to stabilize the child in the best possible placement and support them in a trauma-informed child-care setting.

No one disputes the urgent need for California to retain and recruit high-quality resource families to care for the 64,000 children in foster care in the state. The Emergency Child Care Bridge program presents lawmakers and the governor with the opportunity to address one of the top barriers to the retention and recruitment of resource families which will open more family homes to the state’s most vulnerable children. We urge them to establish the Emergency Child Care Bridge program in the final state budget.

Jennifer Rexroad is a founder and executive director of the California Alliance of Caregivers, which represents the voices of relative and non-relative caregivers to promote the well-being of children in foster care. A teacher by training, Jennifer is a foster parent, serves as a Yolo County First 5 Commissioner and lives in Woodland, Calif., with her husband and two children.

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