Foster care systems in Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties have been harshly criticized in the last year for failing to protect children. In Los Angeles County, a grand jury report detailed physical abuse and over-medication in the county's 500 group homes for children; in Orange County, a Times series found similar problems. In Ventura, state regulators recommended revoking the license of the county's own facility for abused and neglected children. All three counties have started implementing solutions. But statewide help is needed, and this week state leaders have a chance to support three key reforms:
* Reducing social worker caseloads. The state's foster care workers oversee more than two times the number of children assigned to their counterparts in other states. Acknowledging the problem, the Legislature has approved a $40-million funding increase, which along with federal matching funds would reduce caseloads by up to 20%. The Wilson administration should stop its efforts to whittle down this essential funding.
* Removing roadblocks to adoption. Many children remain in foster care for years because they have educational, psychological or medical problems that make them expensive to care for. When these youngsters are in group homes and other foster care facilities, county and state agencies foot the bills, but families willing to adopt these hard-to-place children deserve some government assistance too. That's why the state Senate Appropriations Committee should approve a bill by Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley), up for consideration today, that would provide cash assistance on a sliding scale to eligible families who adopt.
A similar bill in the Assembly would also change a law that terminates welfare funds if a foster child is legally adopted by a relative. Child welfare advocates say the law explains in part why children placed with their relatives linger in the foster care system. Relatives know that if they legally adopt these children, the government won't help pay for their care.
* Ensuring that foster children tap all available funding. Most of these youngsters miss out on the funding and services they are entitled to receive. To mitigate this, the Legislature has allocated $20 million to improve outreach programs. The money, for example, could help continue therapy and counseling for former foster children struggling to deal with a history of abuse.
There are problems that go deeper than money in foster care, particularly the conflict between protecting children and making every effort to preserve families. But these legislative measures would at least take some pressure off social workers, allowing them to concentrate on the children in their care.