L. A. County should im­me­di­ately close its ‘ un­ac­cept­able’ teen fa­cil­ity, a spe­cial com­mit­tee ad­vises.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Gar­rett Therolf

Los An­ge­les County’s foster care sys­tem should promptly shut down its las­tre­sort fa­cil­ity for older youth with nowhere else to go and make sig­nif­i­cant new in­vest­ments in the fa­cil­ity for younger youth, a spe­cial com­mit­tee ap­pointed by the Board of Su­per­vi­sors has con­cluded.

The com­mit­tee’s re­port was prompted by a Feb. 28 ar­ti­cle in the Los An­ge­les Times that de­scribed an ar­ray of prob­lems at the county’s Youth Welcome Cen­ter, in­clud­ing the re­cruit­ment of foster chil­dren for pros­ti­tu­tion and work­ers who said the op­er­a­tion was spi­ral­ing out of con­trol.

“The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is un­ac­cept­able for chil­dren al­ready trau­ma­tized by abuse and ne­glect,” the re­port, which needs to be ap­proved by the full Los An­ge­les County Com­mis­sion on Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies be­fore its rec­om­men­da­tions are for­warded to the Board of Su­per­vi­sors, stated.

As the re­port was be­ing drafted, the state was mov­ing on a par­al­lel track to re­quire changes to the Youth Welcome Cen­ter for chil­dren 12 and older and the Chil­dren’s Welcome Cen­ter for younger youths, re­quir­ing the county to come up with so­lu­tions to care for this par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing pop­u­la­tion.

The two cen­ters, the only foster care fa­cil­i­ties that turn no child away, are on the cam­pus of Los An­ge­les County- USC Med­i­cal Cen­ter. To­gether they serve hun­dreds of chil­dren and teens each year as they wait to be placed in in­creas­ingly scarce foster homes.

Most young peo­ple at the Youth Welcome Cen­ter are older teenagers. Many have some type of men­tal ill­ness or med­i­cal is­sue. Some are gay, les­bian, bi­sex­ual or trans­gen­der. Most have been thrown out of mul­ti­ple foster homes.

County su­per­vi­sors opened the welcome cen­ters with fanfare two years ago, herald­ing them as a so­lu­tion to years of prob­lems hous­ing the most dif­fi­cult- to- place chil­dren. Be­fore the cen­ters opened, this type of foster child was placed in a con­verted con­fer­ence room that ev­ery­one in­volved agreed was a stop­gap so­lu­tion.

The cen­ters are al­lowed to keep chil­dren for only 24 hours and are not li­censed

for the lengthy stays some of the youths en­dured. They lack suf­fi­cient bed­ding, bath­rooms and showers, as well as men­tal health and the ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als nec­es­sary to meet their needs.

Over time, the num­ber of youths with­out a proper foster home grew. It the last year, there were 800 vi­o­la­tions of the 24- hour rule at both welcome cen­ters, a county com­mis­sioner said.

Fol­low­ing The Times re­port, state of­fi­cials in April took a harder line and sued the county, push­ing the cen­ters to com­ply to the let­ter of state law. The county and state reached a set­tle­ment agree­ment the same month and agreed to be­gin the li­cens­ing process to bring the ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties up to the state’s stan­dards.

These changes would in­clude es­tab­lish­ing fa­cil­i­ties at the cen­ters that pro­vided the re­quired ameni­ties and op­por­tu­ni­ties so young peo­ple could be legally housed there for up to three days.

That would be only a par­tial so­lu­tion, how­ever, be­cause some of those chil­dren couldn’t be placed in foster homes in that time frame. In those cases, of­fi­cials worry that af­ter three days their fa­cil­i­ties could again vi­o­late state reg­u­la­tions.

DCFS Di­rec­tor Philip Browning said it is clear that to ad­here to the three- day re­quire­ment im­posed by the state, his depart­ment would have to sig­nif­i­cantly up­grade the cen­ters or re­place them al­to­gether at another lo­ca­tion.

He has is­sued a call to the re­gion’s larger pri­vate group homes to sub­mit pro­pos­als on how they might house the re­place­ment fa­cil­ity, which would be 30,000 square feet, the size of a su­per­mar­ket. The depart­ment will eval­u­ate which is the most cost- ef­fec­tive op­tion, he said.

Les­lie Starr Heimov, who leads the court- ap­pointed law f irm for foster youths, said that the DCFS plan to solve the cen­ters’ prob­lems by es­tab­lish­ing a three- day fa­cil­ity is in­suf­fi­cient.

“For the hard­est- to- place youth, I’m skep­ti­cal that we will do much bet­ter in 72 hours than what we do in 24. We will once again be in the po­si­tion where we are just look­ing for a bed — any bed” to move a child out of a welcome cen­ter, she said.

Both she and the com­mis­sion’s re­port re­com- mend more sweep­ing change, in­clud­ing vast im­prove­ment in the in­ven­tory of foster homes and a 30- day emer­gency shel­ter. Only more am­bi­tious re­forms such as those, she said, “will ever solve the re­volv­ing door” of chil­dren fail­ing to f ind last­ing foster homes and re­peat­edly re­turn­ing to the welcome cen­ters.

Wendy Garen, a mem­ber of the com­mit­tee that or­dered the re­port, does not agree with all of its pro­pos­als, but does be­lieve that the ele­phant in the room is the col­lapse in the num­ber of avail­able foster homes.

Since 2000, the num­ber of beds in homes of foster par­ents who are un­re­lated to the foster youths has dropped from 22,000 to 9,000, and so­cial work­ers make as many as 100 calls to f ind a home for a sin­gle child.

At the same time, the pop­u­la­tion of foster youths has be­come more dif­fi­cult to man­age as leg­is­la­tors passed laws to de­crim­i­nal­ize pros­ti­tu­tion, cer­tain types of as­sault and other of­fenses that once sent many foster youths into the hands of the ju­ve­nile delin­quency sys­tem.

Garen called this dis­par­ity be­tween the grow­ing num­ber of youths in des­per­ate need of homes and the shrink­ing num­ber of homes “a cri­sis.”

‘ The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is un­ac­cept­able for chil­dren al­ready trau­ma­tized by abuse and ne­glect.’ — Youth Foster Cen­ter re­port

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