Tag Archives: foster care

Urgent Memo

JUNE 11, 2014

RE:         PLEASE!

Imagine if one of your legislative staffers was assigned to work on more than 300 bills … in one year. Imagine over 300 bill binders in your staffer’s office. Impossible, right?

My lawyer – the only adult in my life who is has the legal duty to make sure the laws you pass actually benefit me, the one adult in my life with a duty just to me – she has a case load of over 300 children like me, more than twice what the Judicial Council says is the maximum possible case load.

This is what such a case load looks like. My whole life and future is somewhere in these files.

Senators, Assembly members, you by force of law have separated me from my parents. I am now being raised within a bureaucracy. I am being solicited by pimps; about half of sexually trafficked girls are right now in foster care with me. There is a good chance I will be homeless when I age out. I am far more likely to end up in prison than other youth. Odds are, I will not graduate from a four-year college.

Respectfully, last night you found money for many things but you decided to take away my voice, my champion. You took away my hope.

Please, I beg of you. Please reconsider. I am your child.


If you would like to do something to help ensure California’s Foster Children have access to the effective representation they need, CONTACT GOVERNOR BROWN’s OFFICE and tell him that foster youth need adequate attorney representation. Dependency attorney caseloads must be reduced. 

Congressional Priorities – Corporations Over Abused and Neglected Children?


Where are our priorities?  If you look at what is happening in Congress, you will be reminded (again) that they are in the wrong spot!  Last week on Tuesday, April 29th, the House Ways and Means Committee convened and adopted seven different bills.  Six of the seven addressed the tax code and extended certain business-related tax deductions.  These six tax bills cost approximately $310 billion over ten years and were approved by the Committee without any requirement that the bills show an offset of cost savings.

Then, there was the seventh bill, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act (HR 4058). This is the bill that brought my attention to what was going on in our Capitol on a seemingly random Tuesday in April.  This bill was the only bill addressed that day that did not address the tax code AND it was the only bill that required at least some of its costs be offset.

To reiterate and make clear – our government could find billions of dollars to extend tax breaks to businesses, but, when trying to spend a few million dollars to try to help kids that are abused and neglected, those advocating for the change are going to have to find a way to pay for it.  What kind of priority is that?  What does that say about us?  If the saying, “put your money where your mouth is” holds, true, I’m hearing our Congress say we care way more about helping businesses than we do about helping the most vulnerable in our society.  Is that true?  I’m getting sick just writing it.

Certainly our current cast of characters in Congress would tell us that there is an offset of fiscal benefits to the economy such as more jobs and more taxes coming in from providing businesses with tax breaks.  There is likely some truth to that.  But $310 billion worth of benefits over 10 years?  I’m not buying it.  And, let’s compare that to what was argued over in HR 4058.  Before it could pass, a section of HR 4058 had to be removed because it was projected to cost approximately $12 million over the same 10-year time period. The section would have required state child welfare agencies provide a young person leaving foster care with a Social Security card, birth certificate, health information and in some cases a bank account. Wouldn’t providing youth the appropriate documentation and support upon leaving care lead to better education and housing outcomes for kids and ultimately more of these youth working and paying taxes too?

The way these seven bills played out highlights the winners and losers on Capitol Hill.  It is a reflection of who is in charge of the House and where their priorities stand.  I choose not to stand quietly and to instead put voice to my concern – our children are the most valuable asset to our country.  Let’s treat them that way!

Author: Christina Riehl is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Children’s Advocacy Institute.

Transition Age Foster Youth


Transition age foster youth are those youth in the foster care system who are approaching the age at which they will age out of foster care. The term also refers to those youth who have recently aged out of the system and are transitioning into adult life.

Over the years, transition age foster youth have not fared well upon aging out of the foster care system. They experience high rates of homelessness, too many do not even complete high school or obtain their G.E.D. Those who do complete high school rarely obtain a college degree. Rates of mental health issues are high among former foster youth. Unemployment numbers are high and when they  are employed, they earn far less than their peers.

The Children’s Advocacy Institute has been engaged in advocacy to improve outcomes for transition age foster youth for several years. The laws and policies in this area are improving, but there is still progress that needs to be made.  This new video on CAI’s website brings to light the obstacles facing transition age foster youth, it highlights the progress that has been made, and the issues that remain to be addressed.  The page also contains a number of resources and reports, including CAI reports, on the issue of transition age foster youth.

Senate Finance Committee Hears Antwone Fisher and Examines Family Finding and Reauthorization


On Tuesday, April 23 the Senate Finance Committee held its first hearing of the year on child welfare. The focus of this hearing was on the issue of youth and family finding more generally and the reauthorization of the Family Connection Grants more specifically. The witnesses included Antwone Fisher, Author, Director and Film Producer, Gary Stangler, Executive Director, Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, Eric Fenner, Westerville Ohio Managing Director, Casey Family Programs, and Kevin Campbell, Founder, Center for Family Finding and Youth Connectedness. The star witness was Antwone Fisher, the subject of a 2002 movie, The Antwone Fisher Story which was based on his autobiography, Finding Fish.

As a child Fisher was in foster care and after moving into adulthood and the US Navy he later discovered he had relatives living very close by throughout his placement. Committee members were interested in Fischer’s real life and very difficult experiences but also about how to do a better job tracking down family members when children are in the child welfare system. Kevin Campbell spoke to his successful efforts in helping to match children with their families. In his comments he said that as he was preparing for his testimony he was able to identify 62 of Fisher’s relatives within 10 minutes at a cost of $15.00 using the technology and methods he developed on family finding.

He proposed that designated funds be used to train and implement practices that successfully notify and match relatives to children in the child welfare system. Gary Stangler spoke to the changing work in trying to assist youth in foster care. He suggested that in light of new research and practice the Committee should re-examine the Chafee Independence program and how it might be improved to address education, health and other needs such as financial planning.

Congress has to reauthorize the Family Connections Grants this year along with the adoption incentive fund. The grants provide short term funding for four types of programs: family finding, family group decision making, kinship navigator programs and residential parent-child substance abuse treatment and counseling. While the funding for the adoption incentive program is discretionary (and not scored with a cost), to continue the Family Connections Grants at the current $15 million a year in mandatory funds, will require Congress to find the funding to continue the program.

The Administration has proposed a three year reauthorization so that it would next expire along with the IV-B programs it is housed under. It also has the benefit of tasking Congress with finding three years of funding instead of the five years a traditional reauthorization would require. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), Chair of the Finance Committee, said he supported extending the program in his opening remarks. To access the complete testimony go to the Antwone Fisher Story as a Case Study for Child Welfare. The current authorization runs out on October 1, 2013.

by John Sciamana, Director of the National Foster Care Coalition
reprinted with permission

The CAI Policy Clinic: One Student’s Experience with the Homeless Youth Outreach Project

My experience as a law student in the Children’s Advocacy Institute’s policy clinic has been a truly rewarding and motivating experience both personally and professionally. My participation in the clinic’s Homeless Youth Outreach Project has afforded me a more comprehensive understanding of the homeless youth community’s unique social, educational and legal needs. Moreover, the experience has stimulated my philanthropic spirits and revitalized my enthusiasm for dedicating my legal career to child advocacy.

The world and its future depend on those characters of the current generation ready and willing to foster and protect the welfare of our children. Unfortunately, this reality became all too real for me when I began working closely with homeless youth. Endless avenues exist for others to take advantage of such an innocently naive demographic. From landlord-tenant issues to securing stable employment, these youth heavily rely on the confidence and trust of others for many of their basic needs. One reoccurring theme echoed through the life stories guardedly told by the youth I have come into contact with are the unnecessary hardships faced when exiting foster care or otherwise emancipating themselves. Specifically, one issue I encountered that raised red flags is the SSI representative payee program where SSI funds are distributed to beneficiaries through a third party. Under this system, if the Social Security Administration makes a determination that a specific beneficiary is unfit to directly manage their funds, the SSA will approve a representative of the beneficiary to supervise the distribution of money. While this system undoubtedly ensures the funds are applied toward the beneficiary’s most appropriate needs, those who have an organizational payee face certain challenges that beneficiaries with more personal payees (i.e. legal guardians, family members or close friends) might encounter less often. The foundational idea behind the program is that the representative be someone who knows the beneficiary’s current and reasonably foreseeable needs, spend the funds accordingly, responsibly manage any remaining funds with the best interests of the beneficiary in mind, and keep a written account of how the funds were used.

When I learned of the organizational payee program, I was immediately, perhaps naively, convinced that a regime where organizational payees serve as representatives for beneficiaries was a recipe for disaster. At first glance, it would seem that there are many opportunities under such a regime for the bad apples to slip through the cracks and escape liability for misusing beneficiary funds. After all, how could an organizational payee serving several homeless youth and countless other beneficiaries know the best and most prudent needs of their clients? Moreover, because they serve multiple beneficiaries, what devices are in place to ensure a single client does not become lost in the crowd?

My natural fears of such a system somewhat subsided, however, after reading the relevant statutes, papers written by concerned third parties and several SSA annual reports on the results of periodic representative payee site reviews and other reviews. I was pleased to discover a well-developed and increasingly efficient monitoring system of all representative payees, including high-volume organizational payees. The Social Security Act, as amended by the Social Security Protection Act of 2004, requires the SSA to actively monitor representative payees and annually report agency progress. Current monitoring measures include annual payee accounting reports, mandatory triennial site reviews and other “random” site reviews, targeted reviews of those payees suspected of mishandling beneficiary funds, and other proactive efforts to ensure compliance and promote best practices on behalf of payees. These procedures have been successful in identifying unlawful behavior on behalf of payees. The SSA then makes efforts to remedy correctable behavior by working closely with the payee and referring particularly egregious actions to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Office of Inspector for potential federal prosecution. While there is always room for improvement, the increasing efforts on behalf of the SSA and individual payees over the past decade are an integral step in the right direction to ensure the well-being of vulnerable beneficiaries including homeless youth. Current measures serve as a strong deterrent for payee misconduct by imposing comprehensive oversight on all qualified payees.

In conclusion, my experience in CAI’s clinic has exposed me to a wide range of legal issues faced by at-risk youth and the comprehensive, but often confusing and convoluted, legal regimes designed to protect this vulnerable population. As a future lawyer dedicated to helping youth, I am determined to unravel and demystify these statutes in order to represent the best interests of my clients. But more, my suspicious curiosity regarding the SSI representative payee program has taught me to question the legal principles and procedures on which I rely in order to determine whether a better or more efficient scheme would better serve the client. Equally important to individual representation is advocacy at a macro level—the law is an evolving organism heavily dependent on aggressive individuals and groups willing to identify and propose solutions for areas that need improvement.

This blog post was written by CAI Policy Clinic Student Johnathan Abrams