Editorial: Foster home limits are a needed check

State officials were considering limits on how many kids a foster parent could supervise well before Amariana Crenshaw died in 2008. Yet it's hard to imagine that the horrific circumstances of her death had no bearing on their decision, announced Monday, to limit foster homes to six children.

When 4 1/2-year-old Amariana was found burned beyond recognition two years ago, she was in the care of Tracy Dossman, a single mother with nine children – six foster kids and three of her own – living in her North Natomas home.

No matter how caring or well-intentioned a foster parent might be, it is simply asking too much for them to look after that many children, especially since many foster kids have physical or emotional scars.

And when a foster parent has issues of his or her own, it is a recipe for tragedy.

Until now, while homes were restricted to six foster children, there were no limits on the number of other children. Starting Saturday, the maximum will be six children, whether they are biological, adopted, under legal guardianship or in the foster system.

Although many foster parents do heroic work on behalf of kids, this rule change may help in weeding out unscrupulous foster parents who pack in more children to make more money.

The new limits, which bring California in line with other states, will apply first to the 3,400 or so foster homes directly licensed by the state or by a county. Eventually, they will cover the far greater number of foster homes – more than 13,000 – that are certified through private nonprofit agencies like the one that licensed Dossman.

While long overdue, this latest fix to the foster care system will need to be closely monitored by state and county officials, to ensure it doesn't backfire in unexpected ways. According to a 2007 count, the number of foster homes statewide had dropped by 30 percent over the past decade and in Sacramento County by more than 40 percent.

That is the double challenge of foster care – finding enough parents to help kids in troubled circumstances and then looking out for their welfare.

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