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Calfornia legislators propose series of measures tackling problems in the foster care system

Yolanda Vasquez, 21, a former foster child, was photographed in her home in Fresno, Calif., on April 24, 2014. Vasquez spent years in California's foster care system, medicated with psychiatric drugs. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
Yolanda Vasquez, 21, a former foster child, was photographed in her home in Fresno, Calif., on April 24, 2014. Vasquez spent years in California's foster care system, medicated with psychiatric drugs. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
Dai Sugano

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The past few months have seen a flurry of attention to foster care in California - and with it, a number of proposed bills that could address some of what child welfare advocates believe are the system's biggest flaws.

"Every so often we do see a year where there's just a lot of attention to child welfare issues and that's typically where we can get some good progress made," said Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of the Youth Law Center, an advocacy group based in San Francisco. 

Rodriguez said the spark this year seems to have come from increased media attention on foster care issues - as well as a crop of new lawmakers interested in the issue.

Among the proposals: reducing psychotropic medication use in the foster care system and proposed restrictions on placements in group homes.

Those are huge, Rodriguez said, particularly AB403, the proposal to limit the use of congregate care, proposed by Assemblyman Mike Stone from Monterey Bay.

"I think right now the approach is typically, because we have a shortage of placements, to just look to see where there's a bed in a facility that will take a child," Rodriguez said. "Children spend way too much of their childhood in facilities where they're not getting that individualized care and parenting - and attachment to a parent - that's developmentally critical."

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, of San Diego, introduced a bill Thursday, AB 854, that would extend counseling and tutoring services to foster children living with relatives. Right now, those services are only available to those living with non-relative foster parents or in group homes.

Weber said that means about two thirds of foster care kids aren't getting those services.

"Our schools, our penal systems, our counties have begun to look at who are the ones dropping out of high school, who are the ones more likely to be incarcerated or find themselves in some kind of juvenile justice system, and it turns out to be kids who are in foster care," she said. 

That realization, she said, is behind the boom in foster care proposals, and could stem serious reforms. The deadline for introducing new bills this legislative session is Friday.

Weber said she's talking to the Legislative Analyst's Office to figure out how much the extending tutoring and counseling services to all foster kids would cost.