As I recently sat in a Senate Budget Committee hearing, I was utterly shocked to hear one of the top administrators for the California Department of Social Services glibly comment on his department’s plan to send 1,000 foster youth to the streets as a budget-cutting maneuver, in addition to closing the door on services to thousands of others.
Did I hear that right?
Isn’t this the department charged with protecting — not trashing — abused and neglected children?
Excuse me, but these are foster children who ended up in the state’s care through no fault of their own. These are victims who now have no families, no support system and, without help, a very bleak future.
Here is the issue: The state departments of Social Services and Finance have proposed a $19 million (60 percent) cut in funding for the Transitional Housing Placement — Plus program. This program provides supportive housing services to former foster youth for up to two years after they have aged out of the foster care system.
Last year, the California Legislature passed AB12. This landmark legislation is intended to expand services to foster youth up to age 21, phasing in through 2014. In the AB12 negotiations, the co-sponsors agreed to exclude youths placed in group homes in order to control state costs. Now, the Department of Finance is pulling a double-cross, proposing to cut funds they had agreed not to.
Basically, taking 60 percent of the transitional housing program budget would practically kill AB12.
Additionally, the state would lose $9 million in federal matching funds in the first six months the program is implemented.
If the state were to leave the transitional housing budget intact and allow AB12 to be fully implemented, it would save the general fund more than $19 million by allowing the sate to tap into federal matching funds.
More salient is looking at this from a cost-benefit analysis. Yearly, I hear budget committee members query Department of Finance staff about whether they have conducted a cost-benefit analysis on any proposed budget cuts. In essence, would this really save the state money? Their answer is always the same: No! In the case of transitional services to former foster youth, there is a substantiated cost-benefit for not cutting these services. Dr. Mark Courtney conducted extensive nationwide research on former foster youths in 2009. One of Dr. Courtney’s primary findings was this: For every $1 invested in a former foster youth, age 18 to 21, there will be a $2.43 return to the public coffers. Given the opportunity, these young people become taxpayers and not tax-takers.
So, will the $19 million cut save California money? No! In fact, it will result in California losing tens of millions of dollars in federal funding and in the long term, it will cost California far more in both financial and human capital.
Dr. Courtney, along with numerous other researchers, clearly demonstrates that providing up to two years of services to former foster youths absolutely produces excellent outcomes. These youths are much more likely to complete high school, attend college or vocational training, maintain meaningful employment, be healthy, avoid trouble and become successful.
The Family Care Network has been providing transitional housing services for nearly 12 years. We have served almost 500 youths with a success rate of more than 90 percent.
California’s treatment of foster youths over the decades has been deplorable. Foster care has been a sure ticket to homelessness, despair and almost a guarantee of future failure. It bears repeating: Nearly 60 percent of former foster youths end up homeless within two years of emancipation, 51 percent are unemployed within four years of leaving the system, 41 percent get arrested and only 2 percent complete college.
How would you feel if these statistics described your son, daughter or grandchild? On the positive side, over the past decade, tremendous strides have been made in improving the plight of these youths, with the pinnacle achievement being AB12 becoming law.
Remember, these are youths who deserve just as much opportunity for success as any of our own children would receive. Please help us speak out against these cuts by contacting the governor, our local legislators and the leaders of the state Legislature.
Visit the Family Care Network’s website at www.FCNI.org to find their contact information. It not only makes good fiscal sense, but it is also the right thing to do.
Jim Roberts has been executive director of the Family Care Network Inc. for 23 years.