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Decade of Progress Threatened by THP-Plus FC Proposal

May 8, 2012

By Amy Lemley

In its budget trailer bill released Friday April 29th, the Administration has proposed to give county child welfare agencies the discretion to use funding provided for THP-Plus and THP-Plus Foster Care for other purposes. This is a big step backward for California’s decade-long effort to end homelessness among former foster youth.

 As many of you know, THP-Plus was established by the California State Legislature in 2001 to address a growing, yet largely invisible issue: homelessness among youth who “age out” of the foster care system. At the time, two out of three youth who “aged out” of foster care in California experienced a bout of homelessness within 24 months of being discharged from foster care.

 Since then, California has made important gains in ensuring that youth make a successful transition from foster care to independent living. THP-Plus has grown to serve over 2,000 young adults annually, age 18 to 24 in 51 counties. The program has been rigorously evaluated and has been found to help our state’s most vulnerable youth increase their levels of employment and education and reduce their levels of criminal justice involvement and homelessness

 Based on this success, a new placement option was created in the passage of Assembly Bill 12, modeled after THP-Plus called THP-Plus Foster Care. THP-Plus Foster Care is a critical part of the continuum of services for youth who participate in extended foster care because it provides a combination of affordable housing and supportive services. This combination is essential to ensure that youth participating in extended foster care actually develop and hone their independent living skills prior to their discharge from foster care. THP-Plus Foster Care is particularly important as an alternative placement for youth living in group homes, which are expensive and fail to adequately prepare youth for discharge from foster care.

 That’s why I am so concerned about the Administration’s proposal to make THP-Plus Foster Care an option for counties. Last Wednesday, a range of stakeholders provided public testimony at the Assembly Budget Subcommittee outlining their concerns:

 The proposal will result in limited implementation of THP-Plus Foster Care: As realignment is currently structured, the base level of funding for Child Welfare Services is inadequate. The California County Welfare Directors Association calculates that the shortfall is $260 million. Given this shortfall at the outset of realignment, it is likely that certain counties will not elect to implement THP-Plus Foster Care, which has a cost of roughly three times the basic foster care rate due to the provision of comprehensive supportive services. Instead, counties would likely elect to use funding allocated for THP-Plus Foster Care to address shortcomings in their child welfare services budget, despite the fact that THP-Plus Foster Care is a necessary placement and one intended when AB 12 was passed.

 The proposal violates federal requirement for state-wideness: THP-Plus Foster Care is part of California’s federal Title IV-E program under AB 12 and is therefore part of the federal entitlement. As such, counties do not have the legal authority to “opt in” or “opt out” of parts of a federal entitlement which California has included in its Title IV-E State Plan and for which it is claiming federal financial participation. Providing counties with the discretion to establish variable county child welfare systems sets a dangerous precedent, would not meet federal state-wideness requirements, and exposes the State to legal challenge.

 The proposal turns extended foster care into a cash-only program with no supportive services: Without THP-Plus Foster Care, the most prevalent placement for youth in extended foster care will be the Supervised Independent Living Program (SILP). This placement was originally envisioned for youth with a high-level of readiness. It provides youth with a direct monthly cash benefit of $776, which they can use to pay to live in a setting of their choice, provided it meets basic health and safety standards. The only supportive service provided to a youth placed in a SILP is a monthly visit with a child welfare worker, far less than the average of 8 hours per month provided to a youth living in THP-Plus. Without availability of THP-Plus Foster Care, SILPs will become the placement of choice, and the primary benefit to non-minor dependents will be cash. This was not the intention of AB 12. AB 12 was intended to provide older youth in foster care with hands-on training and support to develop the skills to become successful adults. By making THP-Plus Foster Care an optional placement, the Administration’s proposal undermines this intent and turns extended foster care largely into a cash-aid program without supportive services.

 The proposal abandons youth placed in group homes: AB 12 includes a provision that restricts placement of youth in a group home to those who have a serious mental or physical disability. Youth who do not meet this criterion are required to exit their group home placement when they turn age 18 or graduate from high school, whichever occurs first. This restriction was included with the understanding that these youth would be able to avail themselves of THP-Plus Foster Care. If this placement is not available in all counties, youth exiting group homes will not have a placement option that provides the appropriate combination of supportive services. As of January 1, 2012, there are over 2,000 youth in foster care in this circumstance. Most of these youth do not have a serious mental or physical disability that would enable them to remain in their group home placement, leaving them without a real placement option for extended foster care.

 The proposal reduces the overall effectiveness of AB 12: The case for extended foster care was made by demonstrating that youth who participate will fare better than youth who are required to be discharged at age 18. Research led by Professor Mark Courtney found that youth who participate in extended foster care are less likely to become arrested or incarcerated than youth who exit foster care at age 18. These results, however, are based on the inclusion of a range of youth, including the most vulnerable youth, who require supportive services. If these youth do not participate in extended foster care because there is no placement available for them, they will experience rates of arrest and incarceration similar to those prior to passage of AB 12 and the policy to extend foster care to age 21 will have no measurable effect.

 THP-Plus has been an essential part of that progress and under AB 12, THP-Plus Foster Care will provide the same high-quality services with federally-leveraged funding.

 The Administration’s proposal to allow county child welfare agencies the discretion to use funding currently allocated for THP-Plus and THP-Plus Foster Care for other purposes reverses this progress and undermines the intent of the California State Legislature when it overwhelmingly adopted the policy in 2010. The Legislature should reject this proposal.

 

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