BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    




                                                                  SB 342
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          Date of Hearing:   July 2, 2013

                        ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON HUMAN SERVICES
                                  Mark Stone, Chair
                       SB 342 (Yee) - As Amended:  May 24, 2013

           SENATE VOTE  :  39-0
           
          SUBJECT  :  Foster youth:  Social Worker and Probation Officer  
          Visits

           SUMMARY  :  Allows a foster youth to request a private  
          conversation with his or her social worker or probation officer.  
           Specifically,  this bill  :

          1)Requires the monthly visit of a foster youth in a group home  
            by a social worker or probation officer to include a private  
            discussion with the foster youth and for the visit to occur in  
            the group home.

          2)Requires the visit of a foster youth in a foster home by a  
            social worker or probation officer to occur in the foster  
            home.

          3)Requires a social worker or probation officer to inform a  
            foster youth placed in a group home or foster home of their  
            right to have the private discussion either in or outside of  
            the foster home or group home. 

          4)Requires a social worker or probation officer to hold a  
            private discussion with a foster youth outside of the foster  
            home or group home, if requested by the foster youth.

          5)Provides that a private discussion held with a foster youth  
            does not replace the obligation of the social worker or  
            probation officer to physically visit the foster home or group  
            home.

           EXISTING LAW   

          1)Requires each child in foster care placed into a group home to  
            be visited no less than once per month by a county social  
            worker or probation officer and requires each visit to include  
            a private discussion between the foster youth and the social  
            worker or probation officer, which cannot be held in the  









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            presence or immediate vicinity of group home staff.  (WIC  
            16516.5)

          2)Requires a social worker or probation officer, at a regular  
            visit with a child in a foster care placement, to have a  
            private discussion with the foster youth, which may not be  
            held in the presence or immediate vicinity of the foster  
            parent or caregiver.  (WIC 16516.6)

          3)Prohibits the social worker or probation officer from  
            disclosing the information discussed in the private  
            conversation to the foster parent or caregiver, or group home  
            staff unless:

             a)   The social worker or probation officer believes that the  
               foster youth may be in danger of harming himself or  
               herself, or others; 

             b)   The social worker or probation officer believes that  
               information is necessary to meet the needs of the child; or

             c)   The foster youth consents to the disclosure of the  
               information.  (WIC 16515 and 16516)

           FISCAL EFFECT  :  Unknown

           COMMENTS  :

           Child Welfare Services  :  The purpose of California's Child  
          Welfare Services (CWS) system is to provide for the protection  
          and the health and safety of children.  Within this purpose, the  
          desired outcome is to reunite children with their biological  
          parents, when appropriate, in order to help preserve and  
          strengthen families.  However, if reunification with the  
          biological family is not appropriate, children are placed in the  
          best environment possible, whether that is with a relative,  
          through adoption, or with a guardian, such as a nonrelative  
          extended family member (NREFM).

          In the case of children who are at risk of abuse, neglect or  
          abandonment, county juvenile courts hold legal jurisdiction, and  
          children are served by CWS through the appointment of a social  
          worker.  Through this system, there are multiple stages where  
          the custody of a child or his or her placement is evaluated,  
          reviewed and determined by the judicial system, in consultation  









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          with the child's social worker, to help provide the best  
          possible services to the child. 

          At the time a child is identified as needing child welfare  
          services and is in the temporary custody of a social worker, the  
          social worker is required to identify whether there is a  
          relative or guardian to whom the child may be released, unless  
          the social worker believes that the child would be at risk of  
          abuse, neglect or abandonment if placed with that relative or  
          guardian.  (WIC 306 and 309) 

          The Welfare and Institutions Code also lays out the conditions  
          under which a court may deem a child a dependent or ward of the  
          court, including when the parent has been incarcerated or  
          institutionalized and is unable to arrange for care for the  
          child, such as placement with a known relative.  If the child is  
          deemed a dependent or ward of the court, the court may maintain  
          the child in his or her home, remove the child from the home but  
          with the goal of reunifying the child with his or her family, or  
          identify another form of permanent placement.  Unless the child  
          is unable to be placed with the parent, the court is required to  
          give preference to a relative of the child in order to preserve  
          the child's association with his or her family.  

          Associated with the placement process, the assigned social  
          worker develops a case plan for the child, which outlines the  
          placement for the child, sets forth services necessary for the  
          child, and outlines the provision of reunification services, if  
          necessary and appropriate.

           Foster care visitation  :  The visitation of children in foster  
          care on a regular basis provides numerous benefits ranging from  
          ensuring the health and safety of a child to helping to either  
          reunify the child with his or her biological parents or family,  
          or take the appropriate steps towards permanency, through  
          adoption or guardianship.  It can also help to provide proactive  
          services that the child may need, including counseling,  
          educational support, mental health services, and other  
          supportive services that help to improve the child's quality of  
          life. 

          Social worker and probation officer foster care visitation  
          requirements are established in state statute and the DSS CWS  
          Manual of Policies and Procedures (MPP).  Established pursuant  
          to DSS' general authority to "formulate, adopt, amend or repeal  









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          regulations and general policies affecting the purposes,  
          responsibilities, and jurisdiction of the department and which  
          are consistent with the law and necessary for the administration  
          of public social services?"<1> the CWS MPP further specifies the  
          frequency by which a foster youth in a licensed, certified, or  
          approved foster home is visited. 

          Although group home visitation requirements are established in  
          statute, foster home visitations requirements are not.  Rather,  
          they are provided for in the CWS MPP, which requires foster  
          youth in foster homes to be visited once a month.  However,  
          unlike statute, the MPP permits exceptions for foster home  
          visits.  Specifically, it allows a social worker to have less  
          frequent visits, up to once every six months provided that the  
          following criteria are met:

                 The child has no severe physical or emotional problems  
               caused or aggravated by the placement;

                 The child has been in the same placement for at least  
               six months and the social worker has determined that the  
               placement is stable; and

                 The child is visited once each calendar month by social  
               worker staff of a foster family agency pursuant to the  
               child's case plan and is documented and reported to the  
               child's social worker.

           Federal visitation requirements  :  In September 2011, the United  
          States Congress passed the federal Child and Family Services  
          Improvement and Innovation Act (P.L. 112-34), which amended part  
          of Title IV of the Social Security Act to extend the Child and  
          Family Services Program through federal fiscal year (FFY) 2016. 

          Among its many provisions, and in recognition of the positive  
          correlation between frequent caseworker visits and outcomes for  
          children, states are now required to take necessary steps to  
          ensure that caseworkers visit at least 90% of children in foster  
          care, rising to 95% for FFY 2015 and thereafter, each month.  It  
          also requires that the majority of a child's monthly visits  
          occur in the home.  If states fail to comply with these  
          requirements, they can face penalties for noncompliance, which  
          could include a reduction in federal funding. 




          ---------------------------
          <1> Section 10553(e) of the Welfare and Institutions Code.








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          According to the United States Department of Health and Human  
          Services Administration for Children and Families, California  
          has steadily increased the number of foster youth receiving  
          visits in the home, from 63% in 2008 to 74% in 2011.  However,  
          progress is still needed to not only ensure federal compliance,  
          but to help improve the lives of children in foster care. 

           Need for the bill  :  With the implementation of CWS realignment  
          from the state to counties, it has become increasingly important  
          to enhance state oversight, where necessary, to ensure  
          compliance with federal child welfare funding requirements and  
          to help meet federal outcome measures.  Additionally, with the  
          adoption of the federal Child and Family Services Improvement  
          and Innovation Act, which significantly increased foster home  
          and group home requirements, the state has needed to take  
          proactive steps in ensuring greater compliance. 

          According to the California Youth Connection, the sponsor of  
          this measure, recent data from DSS demonstrates that  
          approximately 30% of required social worker visits do not occur  
          at the foster home or group home where the child lives.  This  
          has resulted in circumstances where a particular group home or  
          foster home was not visited by a case worker for an extended  
          period of time.  Not only does this raise policy concerns that a  
          group home or foster home is not being visited as often as it  
          should, it also raises concerns that the state is not complying  
          with federal requirements.

          This bill makes sound policy sense on several fronts.  First, it  
          would help the state meet federal foster care visitation  
          requirements by ensuring that visits occur in the foster home or  
          group home.  Second, it enables children in foster care the  
          right to have a private discussion with their social worker in a  
          safe place.  And third, it enhances existing foster care  
          visitation statute to ensure that a social worker's or probation  
          officer's private discussion with a foster youth does not  
          supplant the requirement to visit the foster youth's foster home  
          or group home.

           Policy consideration  :  Even though foster home visitation  
          requirements are laid out in the CWS MPP, and can be considered  
          equally as stringent as those set forth in statute for group  
          homes, it lacks the force of statute. 

          Should the committee choose to pass this measure, it should  









                                                                  SB 342
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          consider encouraging the author to address the lack of statutory  
          clarity relating to the frequency of foster home visitation  
          requirements.  Specifically, it may be of good policy benefit to  
          the state for foster home and group home visitation requirements  
          to be aligned with federal visitation requirements. This could  
          allow for clearer alignment in statute regarding the frequency  
          of foster home visits while maintaining current state group home  
          visitation requirements.

           REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION  :

           Support 
           
          All Saints Church Foster Care Project
          California Youth Connection
          Children Now
          Children's Advocacy Institute
          Children's Law Center of California (CLC)
          Dependency Legal Group of San Diego
          Family Law Section of the State Bar of CA
          Juvenile Court Judger of CA
          Legal Advocates for Children and Youth (LACY)
          National Association of Social Workers, CA Chapter (NASW-CA)
          State Public Affairs Committee (SPAC)
           
            Opposition 
           
          None on file

           Analysis Prepared by  :    Chris Reefe / HUM. S. / (916) 319-2089