Each year, more than 800,000 children are abused or neglected by their caretakers and 440,000 children are removed from their families and placed into foster care. President Biden in his failed “Build Back Better” legislation and Gov. Newsom in his proposed 2022-23 budget are attempting to address the failures of our current child welfare system by committing billions of dollars to improve the lives of at-risk children and teens.
In Newsom’s budget alone, $3.4 billion has been allocated to tackling learning loss during the pandemic and funding for more after-school programs; $28 million to foster youth support programs in community colleges; $50 million to expand state home visiting programs and $1 million to help counties provide family-finding services to expand the number of foster youths taken in by relatives. There’s also universal basic income for young adults who come from the foster care system.
But are these programs really getting results?
When we asked Next Round podcast guest AEI scholar Naomi Shaefer Riley, who focuses on child welfare issues, how she could more effectively spend these dollars if she were Gov. Newsom’s child welfare czar, she came up with some interesting ideas:
Education and Training
Riley said case worker training would be at the top of her list. State child welfare systems are doing a poor job of assessing which children are at risk and which children are most at risk. “A lot of case workers really don’t have the appropriate level of education or training, and we are not giving them the tools they need to understand which kids are at risk,” said Riley. There are models that now use predictive risk modeling and predictive analytics, factoring information such as if an incarcerated person has returned to the household, if a child has been absent from school, or even if the family has not used their welfare payments recently. These state-of-the-art analytics, while available, are not widely used by social workers due to lack of education and training.
The family courts are another area that Riley believes is not receiving sufficient resources. “The slowness of family court is one of the most infuriating aspects of the system,” she said. Children as young as two years old attend drawn-out hearings only to be told by the judge to return again in six months. “An enormous amount of a child’s life is frittered away with this kind of bureaucracy,” said Riley. Resources are needed to put in place more judges, more lawyers, as well as up-to-date technology to make family courts run faster and more efficiently.
Recruitment and Training of Foster Families
Riley would also invest in data to better recruit and train foster families. In particular, she believes that faith-based organizations are working hard to encourage more middle-class Americans to provide foster care. Middle-class households have largely been untapped as providers of foster care, and faith-based organizations have done a better job at reaching out to these families.
We hope Sacramento is listening.
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.