A child in California is abused or neglected every four minutes, according to the Children's Defense Fund. As a result, California is home to approximately 20 percent of America's foster children.
When youth leave the foster-care system, typically around age 18, they are often ill prepared for what follows. More than 50 percent are unemployed, and almost 33 percent become homeless, according to the Child Welfare League of America. And a 1998 study by the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin found that about 20 percent will be incarcerated within two years.
No parents would wish this for their child, yet as communal parentsï we tolerate this, and more, for our foster youth. When we remove children from their parents, we ask that the court system make critical decisions, including where a child lives and with whom, along with ways to ensure that this child receives adequate health services and education.
As Bill Frenzel, a former member of Congress and chair of the national, nonpartisan Pew Commission on Foster Care on which I served observed, no child enters or leaves foster care without a judge's decision. Courts determine when a child has been abused or neglected, whether a child returns home or is placed in foster care and every important life decision in between.
Although foster care is absolutely critical to protecting children who cannot stay safely in their own homes, it is intended to be a short-term refuge rather than a long-term saga. However, despite their critical role in children's lives, dependency courts often lack the tools and information needed to move children swiftly out of foster care into permanent homes. Only 1 percent of federal child welfare dollars are earmarked for the dependency court system.
Several key ingredients are necessary in order to truly safeguard California's most vulnerable children:
While California's court system is a national leader in supporting dependency court innovations, including the creation of the Administrative Office of the Courts' Center for Families, Children & the Courts, there is more we can do for these children. The Judicial Council of California approved a resolution supporting the Pew Commission's recommendation and pledging that the California judicial branch will work with state and local entities and community partners to realize the commission goals, and urge Congress to act on the recommendations. The time to act on these recommendations is now, before one more child's life is lost to foster care drift.
In observance of May's Foster Care Awareness Campaign, let us commit to enabling our state's foster youth to obtain what all children need: safe, permanent families that love, nurture, protect and guide them.
These children are California's future.