For years, thousands of California youths were abused or neglected twice over -- first by parents who couldn't or wouldn't provide basic care, then by governmental agencies that sent them to live with strangers instead of extended family, only to cut them off from all support on their 18th birthdays. The state and many of its counties are now doing better, keeping foster children with family members whenever possible, and in some cases continuing care to age 21 to ensure that young adults have a place to live, adequate job training or admission to college.
Outmoded and foolishly restrictive federal laws discouraged humane and cost-saving innovations -- until last year, when Congress adopted a wide-ranging overhaul of federal foster care reimbursements. Now a state bill by two Assembly Democrats, Jim Beall Jr. of San Jose and Speaker Karen Bass of Los Angeles, would help put the new federal thinking -- and funding -- to work for California kids.
AB 12 would permit California to use federal money to pay half the cost of its kinship guardian program, allowing grandparents and other family members to get the same financial help that formerly could go only to group homes or unrelated foster parents. But that's just Part One. The money that the state and county would save because of the new federal participation would then go to extending services to foster youth until they become 21 -- and those dollars would in turn be matched by more new federal money.