A few years ago, my husband and I became caregivers to our three nieces and nephew who were in foster care. As time passed, the two oldest girls moved out of our home after high school, our nephew moved to Mexico to live with his father, and we took guardianship of our youngest niece.
My experience in the foster care system has instilled in me a desire to advocate for other families with similar lived experiences. On January 30, 2018, I was compelled to join the Alliance for Children’s Rights and the California Alliance of Caregivers for their Caregiver Day at the Capitol. At the event, caregivers like myself and child welfare advocates teamed up to discuss issues facing families caring for children in foster care with our California legislators, their staff, and department staff.
I participated in this event to share my story. Our journey with the children was tough. We didn’t always have adequate resources and we struggled. It’s important to me that lawmakers understand how critical it is for families to have appropriate support while caring for children in foster care.
At the Caregiver Day at the Capitol, we advocated for funding at the time a child is placed in a caregiver’s home and Senate Bill 1083, legislation to remove barriers to being approved as a resource family under the new approval process required to care long-term for a child in foster care. Since its implementation in 2017, the new approval process has been burdensome and unfriendly to caregivers. I met caregivers who shared that they have been completing the new approval process for over a year. At the time of the Caregiver Day at the Capitol, families did not receive full foster care funding until they were approved as resource families. This was extremely detrimental for kin families who often step up to care for a relative child prior to being approved as a resource family.
I can relate to what it takes to support children who withstand significant trauma, abuse, or neglect. When my nieces and nephew came to live with us, we were not financially prepared to endure the cost of raising four additional children. Having appropriate funding means being able to buy clothes for the children. It means keeping the children safe in an afterschool program or extracurricular activity until we can pick them up after work. Appropriate funding also allows caregivers to pay for day camp during school breaks. It means ensuring children have whatever they need to thrive. Without the support, you begin to feel helpless and wonder if the children might be better off with another family.
We also advocated to delay implementation of Level of Care, the new statewide funding structure. The new rate tool is intended to identify the needs of children and determine an appropriate foster care rate. However, child welfare advocates identified that the new rate tool has many flaws that cause undue harm to children and families.
This issue is important to me because, in my case, we did not know the children required additional supports until later. When we did know, it was extremely difficult to get anyone to assist. I do not want to see other families and children in the same situation because of a flawed rate system. It is crucial that the new rate system is not rushed and implemented only if it reliably and accurately assesses a child’s needs so that families have appropriate support and services.
My legislative visits were very empowering. Knowing I have a voice and sharing my story alongside fellow caregivers to our lawmakers was inspiring. The California legislators and staff were receptive to our advocacy and truly wanted to help. By joining forces, our voice has a much better chance of being heard.
I am happy to learn that since our lobbying efforts, a short-term solution was enacted to fund caregivers at the time of placement prior to being approved as a resource family. Moreover, Governor Brown and the state legislature are committed to including a long-term funding solution for caregivers in the Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget.
Going forward, I will continue to speak up for children and kin caregivers. My husband and I continue to see our nieces and nephew and I hope to inspire them to speak up on behalf of other foster children too.
The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not reflect the official position of any organization.