Bill aims to make being a foster parent easier

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A statewide effort to get California's foster kids out of group homes and into placements with families has hit a speed bump: a shortage of foster parents. A bill up for debate by the Assembly budget committee Tuesday seeks to address that gap.

The bill, AB 1104, would provide foster parents with immediate childcare for the young kids they take in. In Los Angeles and around the state, lack of child care is one issue that's created a shortage of slots for babies and toddlers removed from their homes. 

Some foster children are eligible for publicly subsidized childcare, but waitlists to get in can be long, and foster parents, in the meantime, have few options.

"They have to pay out of pocket," said Cathy Senderling-McDonald, deputy director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California. "Or they would potentially have to quit work and stay home in order to care for a child."

According to the office of L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, 25 percent of "placement denials" — meaning foster parents saying they can't take a child — were due to lack of child care. 

Senderling-McDonald said one consequence is that very young children end up in congregate care, like group homes, instead of with families.

For the past few years, the state's been trying to move away from using group homes, except where they can provide specific services a child needs that families can't provide.

But the key to that move is finding enough foster parents to make up the difference.

"We need to give them all the help we can," Kuehl, who's advocating for the legislation, said in an email. 

The roughly $22 million annual proposal would build upon a pilot program in Los Angeles that's starting to provide emergency child care for foster parents. The bill also offers such services to foster kids who are themselves parents. 

It's not the first time such a proposal has come up for debate, but in past years, Senderling-McDonald said, it's fallen in favor of other budget priorities.

This year, she's hoping L.A. County's lobbying efforts, as well as increased attention to the importance of early childhood education, will bump the program up the list for funding. 

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