Monthly Archives: November 2010

What is SB 39?

In October of 2007 the California legislature passed Senate Bill 39 (SB 39), which mandates procedures for publicly disclosing instances of child abuse or neglect that result in the death or near death of a child within the foster care system. Through requesting the information mandated by S.B. 39, which includes prior abuse reports and details of how the child died, we hope to better understand how the foster care system works and should work. One of the benefits of S.B. 39, is that it was passed with the intent to increase public disclosure so that the foster care system would be more accountable. One way in which this is possible is that S.B. 39 provides an opportunity for groups like CAI to study the correlation between repeat reports of abuse and child deaths. As we continue to gather S.B. 39 information, we at CAI hope to be in a better position to encourage positive change in foster care. 

Overall, the work we are doing on fatality reporting is not always filled with happy endings. But we believe that no child should needlessly die. Often these children are left without a voice and without someone to advocate their cause. In an increasingly overburdened system there is always the possibility it will allow one too many instances of child abuse to occur before that child is moved to a new home. Increasing our understanding of the reporting procedures is just one way we at CAI are showing our commitment to correcting the system. We don’t want deaths to just be numbers we pass over and are momentarily saddened by.  In the spirit of S.B. 39, we hope that facts attached to every instance that an innocent child was so mistreated that he or she dies will provide a story that can eventually be used in system changing way. Our hope is that the brighter the spotlight is on the issues facing the foster care system, the more people will be compelled to demand change in it. 
About the Author:
Braden Bohlinger is a student at the University of San Diego School of Law. He is currently taking part in the Children’s Advocacy Policy clinic and is working on issues related to S.B. 39.

Thanksgiving Traditions

As the Thanksgiving Holiday approaches, many of us are happily anticipating reuniting with our families. I am looking forward to my mom’s fabulous pumpkin pie and the pastries that my dad makes. I am excited to see my sisters, to spend time chatting and laughing with these three women who are such an important part of my life. I am eager to see my nieces and nephews and how they have grown. I can’t wait to wake up to the smell of bacon and the medley of other delicious aromas that float up the stairs on Thanksgiving morning at my parents’ house. I look forward the sound of my family talking and laughing over coffee on Thanksgiving morning. We will have breakfast, go to church, then come home, prepare food together as we talk, laugh and reminisce, and then our entire family will have an enormous Thanksgiving dinner together. This is our tradition. Families all over have their own traditions on this Holiday as well.
Since I have been working with foster youth, however, Thanksgiving has another layer of meaning. As I am eagerly anticipating seeing my family, my sisters, my grandma, my nieces and nephews, I am reminded that there are children and youth in the foster care system who do not have a family with whom they can spend Thanksgiving. Many are in group homes, have been separated from their siblings, or are in an unfamiliar place with people who are relative strangers to them.  These children and youth will not wake to their family busily preparing for whatever holiday traditions they hold dear during this time of the year.  Some facilities will do their best to provide the foster children and youth who reside within them a special Thanksgiving experience, but it will not be the same. It will not be the same as spending the Holiday with a loving, caring family. It is difficult to establish tradition for a child who is moving from place to place and may spend Thanksgiving in a different place, with different surroundings and different people each year. 

Here are some things that you can do, big and small, to make a difference for foster youth this Holiday Season:  
1)     You can become a foster parent:
California and other states lack foster families. The result is that too many children are placed in impersonal (and expensive) group homes rather than with caring families.  A foster family can provide stability, a caring environment, and the family so many of these children and youth need during the Holiday season and beyond.
2)     You can become a mentor:
Foster children and youth quite often move from placement to placement, their social workers change, their attorneys change, their schools often change, their circle of friends changes. Some youth will stop attempting to connect to avoid the pain of having the loss over and over and over again. These youth need a consistent, caring adult in their lives. Someone who can make Holidays a little more special. Someone they can count on, who will be there. There are several non-profits that provide mentors for foster youth, and some county child welfare departments do this as well.
3)     You can become a Court Appointed Special Advocate: 
Court Appointed Special Advocates act in the role of a mentor and monitor a child’s progress, and in some cases ensure a child’s educational stability. CASAs provide a much needed stable adult presence in the life of a foster child.  In San Diego, CA, the local CASA organization is Voices for Children. If you are outside of San Diego, you can get information on your local CASA organization and volunteer opportunities from National CASA
4)     Become an Educational Representative:
Many youth in the foster care and delinquency system need someone to advocate for their educational rights and ensure that they receive a the free appropriate public education to which they are entitled. It is also a way to help these youth maintain stability in school and have a consistent adult in their lives. CAI has an Educational Representative program.  If you are not in the San Diego area, your local CASA organization may have an Educational Representative program for which you can volunteer.
5)     You can contact Just In Time for Foster Youth or a similar nonprofit in your area to help a former foster youth establish a home of his or her own, volunteer and / or contribute to the organization’s holiday activities (many have events where they give gifts and have meals for the youth).  If there is no such organization in your area, look at what Just In Time is doing, and see if there is a way you can replicate this wonderful work.
6)     You can start a Transition Life Coach (TLC) program with a community group or religious organization to help an older foster youth form ties with responsible, caring adults and to help these youth form the networks and have the resources that they need to succeed as they transition into adult life. For more information, visit CAI’s website:
7)     Donate to organizations, like the Children’s Advocacy Institute that advocate for foster children in the courts, the legislature, and in front of administrative bodies to help ensure that these children and youth have access to  the same opportunities as their peers who are not in foster care. 
8)  Contact your local Child Welfare organization or a local non-profit to see what you can donate. Many of these  organizations accept donations of gifts and/or gift cards for the foster children and youth with whom they work.
      About the Author:
      Melanie Delgado serves as Staff Attorney for theChildren’s Advocacy Institute. Her research and work focuses primarily on transition age foster youth and she is the primary author oftwo reports on the subject. Delgado is a graduate of the USD School of Law, where she participated in the CAI academic program, and was a co-recipient of the James A. D’Angelo Outstanding Child Advocate Award in 2006.

There is a Dual Jurisdiction Problem in California

In California, the state assumes parental authority over a minor child if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the child’s current guardian is “unfit,” and continued placement in the home is no longer in the child’s best interest.  Once the state becomes the child’s parental authority by law, the child is declared a “dependent of the state.” This declaration triggers a duty in the court to find the child a suitable replacement home, and to provide her with the care and attention she deserves.

The dual calendar issue in juvenile justice arises when a dependant child of the state commits a crime.  More specifically, California law follows a “separate jurisdiction” approach to dual calendar cases. Under this approach, once a minor’s case falls within the dual jurisdiction of the court, the judge will hold a §241.1 hearing to determine under which system the case should remain.  The judge is faced with the decision of whether to handle the child’s case under the dependency system, or alternatively to handle it under the delinquency system.  This decision creates the “dual calendar issue” because essentially the judge is forced to choose between the two systems, which consequentially forces the judge to choose between the benefits each system has to offer.  For example, if the delinquency court retains jurisdiction of the case, the dependency case and all the services provided by child welfare services are terminated.  This is completely contrary to the legislative intent for establishing a juvenile justice system in the first place.  The system was built around the notion of doing things only if they are “in the best interest of the child.”  The foundation of the juvenile justice system is based on the idea of rehabilitation, not retribution.   Terminating a child’s welfare benefits as a consequence of committing a crime is not in the child’s best interest.  Children are entitled to the most efficient, well-rounded approach to their rehabilitation and reunification efforts. If the judge is forced to choose between the two systems, the child will automatically lose the necessary treatment services unique to either system. For example, if the judge decides to handle the case under the delinquency system, the child will benefit from the structure and discipline of that system; however the child will automatically loose all the benefits she receives under the dependency system. On the other hand, if the judge decides to handle the case under the dependency system, the child will retain her child welfare benefits, but she will lose the structure and discipline the delinquency system has to offer.  Ultimately, the child always loses under a separate jurisdiction approach. 

Alternatively, California should follow a “concurrent jurisdiction” approach. Under this approach, the child’s case may be heard under the dependency system and the delinquency system simultaneously. Cases heard under the concurrent jurisdiction approach have more successful outcomes than those heard under an alternative approach because court procedure allows the child to receive the benefits of both the dependency and delinquency systems.  For example, if a dependency child commits a crime, she will continue to be treated by child welfare services, while simultaneously being held accountable for her actions.  This includes psychological, emotional, and behavioral therapy, along with any detention or incarceration decisions determined by the severity of the crime. Furthermore, states that follow a concurrent jurisdiction approach focus on community based alternatives to secure confinement.  States provide at-risk youth with continued support in areas such as school, mental and emotional health, social relationships, and family harmony.  The goal with this approach is to treat the child in the least restrictive setting that is consistent with public safety.

In California, the laws governing dual jurisdiction cases needs to be reformed.  The State needs to enact a statewide mandate that governs how these cases are handled.  Court procedure needs to be uniform across all counties.  Every agency involved in the process needs to be on the same page, and held accountable for their roles and responsibilities in each child’s life.  This is the only way a child will receive the care and attention she deserves once she is forcibly taken away from her family.

About the Author:
Jessica R. Springer is a law student at the University of San Diego School of Law. She is currently taking part in the Children’s Advocacy Policy Clinicand is working on issues related to California’s dual jurisdiction system.

The Myths about Homeless Youth

The toughest part of my job is not working with homeless youth but trying to educate my fellow citizens about youth homelessness.  I am going to share with you the top two myths that I hear, in hopes that next time you see a kid on the street asking for money or just goofing off you will refrain from judgment and show a little compassion.

Myth #1:  Kids Choose to Runaway From Home
We have this idea that kids choose to run away from home when in reality the majority of homeless youth are there because they were THROWN OUT of their homes.  Here is the reality folks – some parents choose their new spouse or partner over their children.  Some parents do not have the means to provide for their kids.  Some parents do not feel that it is their responsibility to care for their children once they hit their teenage years.  It is an uncomfortable reality but one I see every day.  Not all parents are able or are willing to provide for their children, especially as their children get older and start testing the boundaries.
For those youth that do choose to run to the streets, let’s really think about the choice they had to make.  For many of these youth the choice is this:  Stay in a home where you are being physically and/or sexually abused, stay in a home where you are starving, stay in a home riddled with drug use or with parents suffering from such severe mental health issues they cannot care for you or run to the streets in hopes of finding a better life.
Choosing the streets is no more a choice for many of these kids than choosing to pay sales tax is for the rest of us.  It is out of necessity and survival that this choice is made and I would challenge anyone to ask themselves this question.  If a child is “choosing” to sleep outside in the cold, in the rain, willing to jump into dumpsters looking for food or be spat on while asking for change for a hamburger what must their other options (if they had any) look like? 
Myth #2:  Homeless Youth Just Need To Go And Get A Job Like The Rest Of Us

Now I am not sure this is truly a myth, because it is true statement.  Any youth who is homeless does need a job or a means to provide for themselves financially.  However, let us stop and think about what it takes for a homeless youth to get a job.
1.  The age factor, “Developmental Reality”:  Developmentally a 17-year-old no matter what their living situation is is going to act and behave like a 17-year-old, meaning that working full time and being responsible with money and delaying gratification are usually the farthest things from a 17-year-old’s mind.  Let us take a moment and think back to when we were 17.  Now be honest.  How many of you were chomping at the bit to get up early, pound the pavement for that full-time minimum wage job?  How many of you, once you had that job, just couldn’t wait to put all of your hard earned money into a savings account and watch it grow so you could afford your first apartment?  How many of you looked forward to missing your friend’s party or turned down a date so you could take that extra shift at work?
The reality is that for most of us didn’t.  We were thinking of things that are important to teenagers like getting a boyfriend or girlfriend, looking good, hanging-out with friends and testing the boundaries our parents had set for us.
Even if a youth can overcome their developmental handicap of being stuck in the world of instant gratification lets think about what it takes for a homeless teenager to get their first job.

2.  Basic Needs v. Getting a Job.
When we think about getting a job there are quite a few things we take for granted.
  1.  We have food to eat for breakfast before we go looking for a job.
  2.  We have clean clothes to wear for an interview.
  3.   We have a place to shower to make sure we are clean before we meet an employer.
  4.  We have access to medical care and the means to pay for prescriptions to get ourselves healthy enough to look for a job.
  5. We have a phone number to leave with an employer for a call back.
  6.  We have identification to prove who we are.
  7.   We have a bed to sleep in to make sure we are rested before an interview.
  8.  We have an alarm clock to wake us up on time.
  9.  We have a computer to print out our resumes and submit electronic applications. 

HOMELESS YOUTH HAVE NONE OF THESE THINGS! Going to get a job is not a simple or easy task when you are starving.  Going to an interview without being able to bathe and in clothes that have not been washed in over week is just not possible.  Getting over strep throat without penicillin or applying for a job without leaving a call back number for an employer to contact you is simply not realistic.  It is easy to say “just go get a job” but it is another thing to actually make it happen.  I have worked with kids who have waited over 6 months just to get a birth certificate so they could get an ID and be able to prove who they are!
Next time you see a kid asking for money on the street just stop and think.  Would I be out looking for a job if I had not had a meal in over a day or would I be sitting on the street corner asking for a dollar so I could go to McDonald’s and hit up the dollar menu for a cheeseburger?  For those of you who still think you would be out pounding the pavement looking for work, I challenge you to leave work this evening with nothing but the clothes on your back and head for the streets.  Leave your car, wallet and cell phone behind and find a nice piece of sidewalk to curl up on this evening.  Feel free tomorrow morning to get up in the clothes you slept in and head straight into Horton Plaza looking for minimum wage job applications to fill out.  I promise you that when your throat starts hurting from sleeping in the cold and your tummy starts growling because you have not eaten since lunch the day before, you will be looking less at long-term stable employment and more for what is going to get you fed, washed and clothed right now.
So next time you see a homeless kid on the streets asking for money or blocking the sidewalk because he is trying to show off for his girlfriend remember that that child is still just a child.  Remember that it is we, as society and as parents, that have failed these children in the first place and that maybe what they need is our compassion instead of our contempt. 

– Kriste Draper
CAI Staff Attorney

If you would like to learn more about Kriste’s work at the Homeless Outreach Project and ways in which you can donate or help, please visit or contact Kriste Draper at 619-260-4806.

About the Author:
Kriste Draper serves as Staff Attorney for the Children’s Advocacy Institute. Her primary responsibilities are to direct the Homeless Youth Outreach Project, providing legal services to homeless youth throughout San Diego County. Draper has been a strong advocate for homeless youth for over a decade; she started her work with the homeless at age 17. Draper is a graduate of the USD School of Law, where she participated in the CAI academic program, and was a co-recipient of the James A. D’Angelo Outstanding Child Advocate Award in 2006.