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Attention California gubernatorial candidates: stand up for children's welfare

The California gubernatorial election campaign is in full swing. Republicans Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman are already bombarding television sets with their ads on why one is better than the other. Former governor Jerry Brown announced his candidacy recently but has enlisted the unions to fight his battle for him. It will not be long before radio and television will be firing off so many campaign ads that no family in California, whether in the car or at home, will be unmolested and not harassed.

California is in dire financial straits; it has become the poster child of the ungovernable state and a caveat as ‘what not to do’ for other states. California used to be the trendsetting state, but those glory days are long over and may not return for some time. California is infamous for its profligacy but as long as there was enough tax revenue to support its spendthrift ways no one objected. When the state had money, instead of opening a savings account, new social welfare programs popped up like mushrooms, without any after thought on how it will be funded in the long run. When the governor announced that there will be a huge budget deficit last year and forewarned that no one is immune to cutbacks and some programs will be eliminated all together, howls of protest came from all corners, none louder than state employee unions and teacher’s unions who feared that their well cushioned jobs and gold plated retirement plans and benefits might be taken away or reduced.

However, there is one government agency that has been underfunded and overworked for the last twenty years—department of Social Services, which includes Children’s Protective Services (CPS). Social workers are burdened with double the caseload, which experts say affects outcome and accuracy, they are being asked to travel unreasonable miles to visit their charges, mostly out of county and sometimes out of state, all operating on a shoestring budget when compared to what public education gets. This results in foster parents not being properly vetted and placing children far away from family and relatives because group homes for foster children are closing due to underfunding. The goal of CPS is reunite children with their families as soon as they can, but that would be more difficult if the children are placed out of county where it’s hard for parents to visit with their children.

On March 4, Viola Vanclief, a 2-year-old toddler was found dead in her foster mother Kiana Barker’s home. The coroner ruled that the little girl died as a result of blunt force trauma, she was beaten to death with a blunt object. Her foster mother Kiana Barker and her boyfriend James Julian were arrested for Viola’s murder. Upon further investigation of Kiana Barker, there were 5 previous abuse charges filed against her, but the investigation’s results were either inconclusive or unfounded. According to CPS protocol, the inconclusive findings should have been noted on her file and raised a potential red flag. What’s more is during those 5 investigations, her boyfriend who is a convicted felon lived with her, and this fact alone should have immediately disqualified her as a foster parent, but he went undetected by anyone. When investigating an allegation, the records should reflect all people who come and go in a particular residence; Barker’s boyfriend was not detected by CPS or noted in any of the records. This is another case that slipped through the cracks and sadly, a little child paid for it with her life. Social services are still investigating where the lapse of communication occurred.

For all of the state’s budget cuts and all the vociferous complaints being lodged with respect to those cuts, the department of Social Services have been relatively quite in comparison. Perhaps they have resigned their fate as the department will be underfunded, overworked and most blamed when things go wrong. The Byzantine bureaucracy involved in CPS is overwhelming for any social worker. When a child is removed from their home county to an away county, services rendered have to be agreed on by the home county and by agreed, it’s who will pay for it. Orange County will not pay for services of a foster child that originated in LA County, LA County CPS has to agree to pay for the service first before the service can be rendered in Orange County and one can imagine the amount of paperwork needed for this kind of system.

Since politicians love to drag out children’s welfare (after God and the Bible) as part of their platform or ‘cause’, it’s high time that all the California gubernatorial candidates pay more attention to the crisis in Child Protective Services and redirect some of the state’s resources there. The way the system is set up now is ineffective and inefficient. Why is funding divided by county and not by state? Why should it matter where the foster child originated, if services are needed, it should be paid. If the system is going to make social workers travel sometimes over 100 miles to visit their charge, they should at least make it easy and expedient for them do their jobs and recommend the services the children need so they can be reunited with their families sooner rather than later. It is very difficult to reunite children with their families when they are placed out of the county where their parents live; transportation and resources become a problem. How can a social worker evaluate and monitor parent-child interactions when contact is so sparse and the distance so great? Reunification under this circumstance could be risky or impossible.

California has the largest population of foster children in the United States, about 100,000 children are in foster care, which is 1/5th of the total foster children population in America. All the proposed ‘reforms’ for the public education system won’t matter one bit if the CPS system is not reformed first. Children need a stable home first before they can do well at school. If a child’s life at home is in disarray due to poor foster parenting, instability or abuse, all the educational reforms won’t benefit them one bit. 

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