Soapbox

California needs more foster homes, incentives for foster parents

California is in dire need of more foster homes.

In Los Angeles County, the number of foster homes decreased from more than 8,000 in 2005 to fewer than 4,000 in 2015; and the need for new foster homes is increasing.

One obstacle preventing many parents from opening their homes is the cost of child care. Foster parents (now “resource families”) receive monthly reimbursement to cover the basic cost of raising a child, including food, clothing and personal items. The payment was never intended to cover preschool or child care. A foster parent or relative caregiver volunteers their time and home, and receives the great reward of investing in youth.

A newly proposed Emergency Child Care Bridge Program, Assembly Bill 1164, would provide an emergency child care voucher to give resource families immediate access to child care. It would stabilize vulnerable children in the most appropriate placement and provide trauma-informed training to child care providers. Child care is one of the top barriers to retaining and recruiting foster homes.

More families have single parents or need two incomes to meet the high cost of living in California. This, combined with the increase of children up to age 5 in foster care, has created the immediate need for foster children to access child care. Half of L.A. County foster parents are single. Statewide, many families are available to take placement of children if they can access child care.

Relatives have stepped up to take care of children who need immediate, emergency placement. Relatives often receive sibling sets of two or more children with no warning. Often, quitting a job to care for the children is not an option. The cost of child care for one child can be $1,000 or more per month, and the cost goes up with sibling sets.

Because child care expenses can far exceed monthly resource family reimbursement, they are usually paid out of pocket. If a sibling comes into care and the additional cost of child care is unaffordable, the siblings may be separated.

Additionally, abused and neglected children have unique child care needs. Children separated from their family of origin suffer trauma, and often show behavior that forces them out of child care. Trauma-informed training for early childhood educators can support children with strategies to facilitate healing and provide a therapeutic environment.

AB 1164 will help retain and recruit resource families for children in foster care. For example, an aunt receives a call that her three nephews (ages 6 months, 2 and 3) need her to take them. This aunt is a single mother and works to support her family. She uses a child care center that has openings, but the cost for the three boys is $3,000 a month. The county would administer the child care voucher, and the children would access immediate child care allowing them to stay together and live with family. In addition, the child care provider would receive trauma-informed training. These small boys would benefit from a supportive child care environment to help them cope with their confusion, grief and loss.

In order to retain the state’s investment in recruiting, training and approving resource families, and to recruit new resource families, a child care solution is needed. If the trauma of foster care is shouldered by children, all must be done to ensure they are placed in a therapeutic environment with access to all they need to heal and thrive.

The Emergency Child Care Bridge Program is a way to support children in foster care and the families that they live in.

Jennifer Rexroad, a foster parent, is executive director of California Alliance of Caregivers. She can be contacted at jrexroad@cacaregivers.org.

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