California Bar Journal
CBJ - June 2009 #07.
Panel urges key reforms in foster care system
California Bar Journal June 2009 Panel urges key reforms in foster care systemCarlos Moreno knows first-hand the challenges of navigating California's foster care jungle. For more than nine years, the associate justice of the Supreme Court and his wife have been caregivers and foster parents to their niece, Heather. Their experience, he says, has been a driving force in his work as chair of a commission appointed in 2006 by Chief Justice Ronald George to review the courts' role in foster care.
Last month, the commission issued its final report, calling for fundamental reforms in juvenile dependency courts, extended support for foster youth until age 21, reduced caseloads for judges, lawyers and social workers, and a bigger priority on resources for foster youth. In addition, the commission urged each county to form local foster care commissions, a recommendation Moreno characterized as a "linchpin" in reform efforts.
Noting that nearly half of California's foster children have been in care for more than two years and 17 percent for more than three years, Moreno said the urgent need for action cannot be overstated. "Too often these children find themselves in foster care limbo, shifted from placement to placement, and separate schools," he said.
Progress already has been made on some of the recommendations. California approved legislation last year to ensure that foster youth can participate in their dependency court hearings; recent federal legislation advances 20 of the commission's recommendations, including increased support for relative caregivers and continued support for foster youth until age 21; and the California Judicial Council has made improvements in foster care one of its four top priorities this year.
Moreno urged immediate enactment of legislation pending in Sacramento to extend support to foster youth until age 21. Currently, foster children "age out" of the system when they turn 18. "None of us would...