Foster Parents and Families

How can we better support these critical caregivers?

By Sara Fung

September 30, 2021

Cover photograph via iStock by dragana991

Nurturing caregivers are critical for the well-being of California’s 59,000+ children and youth in foster care who have experienced the compounded traumas of abuse and neglect and removal from their families and communities. These caregivers may be relatives, family friends, or other adults who previously completed the approval process to become resource parents. To succeed in this most vital role, they need a range of supports to help children and youth experience stability in their homes, meet their unique needs, and help them heal and thrive.

California has worked to ensure caregivers have access to the supports they need to show up for the children and youth in their lives. For instance, in 2011, the California Legislature enacted legislation called Continuum of Care Reform (CCR) to ensure that all children and youth in foster care are raised in stable, supportive homes with families that love them. This effort created meaningful systemic change, including reforming the caregiver approval process and the rate system to be more family-friendly and child-centered and developing the Intensive Services Foster Care (ISFC) program to support family homes to meet the more intensive needs of children and youth.

Additionally, state policymakers established the Emergency Child Care Bridge Program for Foster Children in 2017 (Bridge program) and the Family Urgent Response System in 2019 (FURS), two innovative programs designed to support children and their caregivers. The Bridge program mitigates one of the top barriers to finding and maintaining stable family homes for children in care, lack of access to affordable child care, by providing child care vouchers and navigation support to access the state’s subsidized child care system. FURS, which consists of a 24/7 statewide hotline and county mobile response teams, is designed to provide trauma-informed support during critical moments to promote healing and help strengthen caregivers’ relationships with children and youth.

Angela’s Story: How the Bridge program helped keep two sisters together

Angela wanted to take in her two-year old sister, Ava, but was not sure she could afford to do so. Angela had a full-time job but didn’t earn enough to pay for the child care she would need for Ava while she was at work. Her social worker told Angela about the vouchers available through the Bridge program and referred her to a Child Care Navigator who helped her find a provider near her work. The Bridge program was instrumental to this successful placement, providing the financial support Angela needed to care for her sister, helping to stabilize the living situation, and, ultimately, helping Angela secure alternate long-term care for Ava.

More recently, the State took action to support caregivers during the pandemic who struggled to meet the needs of the children and youth in their care while balancing increasing responsibilities and coping with severely limited access to critical supports and services. Resources were made available for all K-12 students in foster care to account for the additional guidance, support, technology, and other requirements that were needed during distance learning. Policymakers also included in the 2021-22 State Budget a $1,500 per foster child payment to address needs that arose during the 15 months of the Stay-at-Home Order.

Despite these efforts, significant work remains to support California’s caregivers. For instance, the existing funding in the Bridge program will not cover vouchers for all the families who need them. Also, while navigators are available to help families secure long-term subsidized care, waitlists for openings in the subsidized care system are so long that 12 months is not enough time for some families to find long-term child care, especially for children with exceptional needs. Moreover, FURS is a new program that launched this year and its effective implementation will require consistent and thoughtful collaboration between the state, counties, and other stakeholders, including caregivers and youth, to ensure families are supported. Finally, as the pandemic continues, so must efforts to meet the evolving needs of caregivers and children and youth in foster care in the coming months.