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CIP Funds Instrumental in Building a Brighter Future for California’s Foster Children

Judge MorenoCarlos R. Moreno, Associate Justice, California Supreme Court
Chair, California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care

Summary: CIP funding helped support the work of California’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care and our ongoing collaborative efforts to help abused and neglected children.

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I am happy for the opportunity to share California’s experience of leveraging federal Court Improvement Program (CIP) funds to build a brighter future for California’s foster children and youth.

When President George W. Bush signed into law the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, the federal CIP grants were extended and expanded. Over five years, $100 million was injected into the system. A number of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care’s key recommendations were incorporated into the law, including a requirement of demonstrated “meaningful collaboration” between state courts and child-serving agencies and organizations.

By 2007, all 50 states and the District of Columbia were receiving federal CIP grants and implementing dependency court reforms. Many states, such as California, included accountability and collaboration activities in their state plans.

Federal funds from CIP grants have been instrumental in supporting the work of California’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care (BRC) and our ongoing collaborative efforts to make a difference for our state’s most vulnerable children. In California, CASA programs have been critical collaborative partners, both locally and statewide, in these efforts.

Local county collaborations key to reform efforts

For three years the BRC met quarterly and held a series of public hearings and focus groups. They heard from stakeholders across the system and statewide, including youth, parents, caretakers, social workers, judges, attorneys, county child welfare directors, and CASA volunteers and staff. Then the BRC developed what we believe are a set of comprehensive and concrete recommendations for reform. Our recommendations point to what the courts, child welfare agencies and other partners can do to make sure children grow up in safe, nurturing and permanent homes. Included in the commission’s recommendations is support for the development and expansion of CASA programs so that every child in California’s dependency system can have a CASA volunteer.

The commission believes that meaningful reform requires ongoing collaboration among many parties at all levels of government and the private sector. As one lynchpin recommendation to carry our work forward, we urged the creation of local multidisciplinary commissions in each county, led by the presiding judge of the juvenile court and the director of the county child welfare agency. We wanted these commissions to be fully representative of all key stakeholders, and we wanted each local commission to address county-level concerns and help implement our recommendations.

I am happy to report that we have more than 40 active local commissions among our 58 counties, and more on the way. In part through federal CIP grant funds, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) has been able to provide two statewide summits for the formation and development of county-level teams, along with ongoing liaison support to the local foster care commission work in every county.

Local CASA programs are proving to be integral to the critical work of our local commissions. One result of the work of these local commissions has been the formation of three new or emerging CASA programs, in Shasta, Merced and Kings counties. CASA volunteers show us again and again the critical difference that one person can make in the life of a foster child. Their work is built on the promise of time and attention, precious gifts in the life of any child, but particularly important for children in foster care who have been through more than their share of trauma and stress. In communities with CASA programs, volunteers are an integral part of dependency courts, often serving as the “eyes and ears” of overburdened judges. Now, through the work of our local commissions, more judges and more children will benefit from the services of a CASA volunteer.

This work is personal

I have to confess that this work is very personal to me. My wife and I have been relative caregivers and foster parents (and now adoptive parents) to our niece, Heather, for nine years. During those nine years we have come to know first-hand the challenges of attempting to negotiate the myriad complex and confusing healthcare, education, social services and other public systems we need to provide services for Heather. Heather is autistic and severely developmentally delayed; she has required intensive services from the beginning. Heather did not have a CASA volunteer assigned to her case, but I sure do wish that she had. If I, as a judge, had a difficult time getting the system to work, I can only imagine the experience that caregivers face who are not aware of their rights, or who are reluctant or intimidated to deal with a public agency. That experience has certainly been a driving force in my work with the commission and my support for all of our dependency system partners working together to improve services to our most vulnerable children and their families.

For more information on the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission, please see the website at www.courtinfo.ca.gov/blueribbon

 

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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