Opinion: Most Vulnerable Foster Youth Left Behind in State Budget

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California’s budget this year has a $100 billion surplus, and individual taxpayers are scheduled to receive over $9 billion in checks for inflation relief. Yet California’s foster youth who need specialized programs and behavioral health services have been left out. 

At the California Alliance, we hear story after story of foster youth housed in county welfare offices and hotels across the state because there are not enough or appropriate placements for them in the child welfare system. It horrifies us to think that these youth, many of whom came to the attention of child welfare departments because they were abused or severely neglected, are now having to live in unofficial shelters while they wait to be placed with a trained foster family.  And there are few openings for these children in short-term residential therapeutic programs, which provide 24-hour care and clinical services to young people with complex trauma and behavioral health needs.

Foster youth succeed when placed with loving families trained by foster family agencies or in short-term therapeutic programs. Without funding to enable these community-based organizations to keep up with soaring costs of staffing and operations, California will lose capacity to deliver these life-saving therapeutic programs. Today’s foster youth will bear the cost of that decision, facing potential homelessness, incarceration or dropping out of school.  These impacts will ultimately be far more costly to California communities than the price of ensuring that foster youth are adequately taken care of when they enter the child welfare system. 

The California Alliance made two one-time budget requests this year totaling less than $100 million to sustain foster family agencies and residential programs for youth in crisis. This represented a tenth of 1 percent of the total state budget.  Yet lawmakers left these requests out of the final budget.  This funding could help thousands of foster youth. 

If budgets are a statement of values, what does a budget that fails to support foster children say about our state? We call on state leaders to make these crucial investments for vulnerable youth a priority in next year’s budget. 

Chris Stoner-Mertz, LCSW, is CEO of California Alliance of Child and Family Services.

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