California Budget Offers Some Targeted Help for Foster Youth and Families

In a budget flush with unexpected revenue, California will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the number of homes for foster children, provide cash payments to transition-age youth and improve legal representation in the state’s dependency courts.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the $308 billion state budget Thursday evening, describing it as an investment in “our core values at a pivotal moment.” As with last year, the state’s finances were buoyed by a massive surplus driven largely by a thriving economy and income taxes paid by high-income earners.

Mindful of growing inflation and a looming recession, Newsom limited most major investments to one-time spending items. But the 2022-23 fiscal year budget also included a $17 billion relief package with a new round of stimulus payments for state residents, as well as investments in abortion access and paid sick leave, among other priorities.

“Building a better future for all, we’ll continue to model what progressive and responsible governance can look like, the California way,” Newsom said in announcing his budget.

With many caregivers of the state’s foster children struggling financially and emotionally as the pandemic stretches into a third year, California will expand several programs providing them greater financial relief and supportive services. Over a two-year period, the state will send $100 million to counties to help recruit and retain foster parents and relative caregivers. The funds can be spent on a variety of needs among these “resource families,” including necessities like gas, new beds for children and respite care. The funds can also be used for extracurricular activities that help children thrive and better acclimate to life in temporary homes.

California will also spend $150 million to expand “family finding” — intensive efforts to search for relatives who might provide an alternative to foster homes, or connections to other extended kin.

“If we could find families from the get-go and support them after the initial foster care entry, we could potentially avoid a lot of heartache down the road,” said Diana Boyer, director of policy for the County Welfare Directors Association of California.

Young adults emerging from the foster care system will also be assisted under the new budget. Current and former foster youth ages 18 through 25 will receive a $1,000 tax credit next year, a benefit first proposed by the governor in January. More than 20,000 young adults could be eligible to receive the money if they meet criteria for the California Earned Income Tax Credit.

A new $100 million investment will provide payments up to $8,000 for low-income children who have lost a parent or caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic and to some young people in the state’s foster care when they turn 18.

Attorneys who represent children and parents in California will also see financial gain under the budget passed this week. The state will spend $30 million to address staff shortages in the dependency courts, improving attorney pay and deterring high turnover rates and excessive caseloads.

Not all child welfare advocates were pleased with the direction of the new state budget. After Newsom and state legislative leaders reached a budget deal last weekend, the California Alliance of Child and Family Services noted that some critical items meant to “significantly transform the system” were removed from the budget or stripped of necessary funds.

“The removal of funding for family resource centers, COVID-19 relief for short-term residential therapeutic programs, supplemental rates for foster family agencies, and targeted family finding for foster youth will have devastating impacts on our ability to prevent child welfare involvement, support families, and provide services for youth in the foster care system,” a statement from the group read.

But Los Angeles County leaders received cause to celebrate. The state has committed $200 million to address a hole in the Department of Children and Family Services’ budget that has led to staffing problems and a reduction in services in the nation’s largest local foster care system. L.A. County oversees roughly 35% of California foster children, and has suffered a growing deficit amid changes in federal funding streams and larger-than-expected costs to serve foster youth ages 18 to 21.

“We are grateful for the state’s ongoing partnership and support of children and families in Los Angeles County,” Brandon Nichols, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services said in an emailed statement. “This budget allocation of $300 million will be used to maintain critical child welfare infrastructure that promotes child safety, family well-being, and community supports.”

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