The Sacramento County Children’s System of Care Committee met on 5/15/23 - let's talk about what went down.
First of all, what is this Committee? Why was this meeting convened?
This Committee exists as a workgroup of Sacramento County's Mental Health Board, and is looking at mistreatment of youth within Sacramento County. This workgroup was formed in response to an uptick in the number of youth who are unhoused & youth that need mental health services to take on the role of researching these issues and reporting back to the full MHB with policy recommendations.
The meeting on 5/15 was the second time this workgroup has convened, and the meeting was held to discuss issues surrounding foster youth in Sacramento County.
Initially there were 4 presentations scheduled for the meeting, but the presentations from Disability Rights California and Assemblymember Gipson (highlighted below) were rescheduled for a later date. The other presentations, as well as the meeting discussion, were centered around dysfunction in the County services that are supposed to be providing for our foster youth.
Note: to this author's knowledge the agenda for the meeting on 5/15 was not posted online like it normally is, making it very challenging for the public to understand how to participate. Which begs the question, why was the County worried about public participation at this particular meeting? Is it maybe because they know how bad this situation makes them look, and they'll do whatever they can to avoid taking responsibility for the way they are failing our community...? No one but them can say definitively, but it sure does look suspicious.
So, what's going on?
There are foster children (an average of 12-16 children per night) who have been temporarily housed (not "held", since kids 12+ have the legal right to leave) in the cells of a former juvenile detention facility. Specifically, they are being housed at the Warren E Thornton Juvenile Detention Center (WET), and the WET center has been used for this purpose for the past 6 months. This is happening in violation of state law, and instead of taking meaningful action to right this horrifying injustice, the county has applied for a temporary license to keep housing the kids at WET.
*a full timeline of the county's inability to provide adequate housing for these children can be found at the bottom of this write-up
Update 5/26/23: Sac County's application for the aforementioned temporary license has been denied. Now the county will have find another space to house these kids. Stay tuned for what happens next.
The county put out a request for proposals on Feb 10 for orgs to operate a "temporary" shelter facility for these kids - so far there has been no contract signed.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
It's budget season; as of the date of this article publishing, the County has not released its draft budget for 2023/24. We can show up to meetings and demand that the County divest from the Sheriff and INVEST in our community, including providing for these vulnerable youth - youth who CANNOT care for themselves, because they're children. If there was ever a time or place to invest money, it would be to keep our children safe.
As a start, we can demand that the County place an immediate freeze on all hiring within carceral spaces.
Basically, if we can't provide healthy remedies, then we shouldn't provide them at all.
Check out this Sac Bee article for more context
Warren E Thornton Juvenile Detention Center pictured below
Why is this happening?
There is currently a decision point regarding the welfare of youth in Sacramento County, where service providers have to weigh how unsafe a child is at home against how unsafe they will be if removed from their home. This is not a good situation for anyone involved with these decisions, BUT as we'll get into later, this dichotomy doesn't HAVE to exist. But it does now, and the wrong decisions are being made.
When we see these types of decisions being made within the context of a lack of services, sometimes children are being removed from homes with nowhere to go. We don't have enough foster homes because the families who are providing (or COULD provide) care are NOT compensated properly. Foster parents are often working full-time jobs while also trying to care for children with special/high needs. At times the foster parents are abused by the youth they're housing. Right now we are seeing that people who have been willing to foster children are aging, retiring, and getting to a place where they can no longer care for foster youth.
What came out of the meeting?
Usually there’s 5-6 people max at these committee meetings, but there were 26 at the 5/15 meeting, including Chevon Kothari (Sac County Deputy County Executive for Social Services) & Michelle Callejas (director of Child, Family and Adult Services for Sacramento County). Clearly people care about what's happening, and they are not willing to accept the status quo.
The consensus was:
We need more in-home therapeutic foster care services, NOT more congregate care like what Senator Ashby is proposing with SB 408
We need to provide more funding & financial support to resource families so they can be trained to take care of these youth with complex mental health needs
What was missing from this meeting were discussions about individuals within the system
These youth were harmed in relationships and will only be healed through relationships - not short term band aids or warehousing.
...a tale as old as time
Predictably (but no less upsetting because of it), instead of remedying the fact that there is not enough pay or support for long-term foster homes (with the ultimate goal of reuniting children with their own families) the county is refusing to invest money in our youth, and is instead pursuing the unacceptable work-arounds discussed at the top of this write-up.
Informational packet from Casey Family Programs,
cover sheet pictured below
There is research that shows how harmful congregate care settings are for youth who are unable to live in their own homes, and advocates have been telling the county about this research & the harms being inflicted upon children in Sac County who are being "treated" in these programs for YEARS. Advocates have been talking about how the lack of housing, inadequate mental health services, and racist practices within Child Protective Services (CPS) exacerbate harms that come to our community's youth, destroy the social structures that keep children safe, and push folks towards the carceral system. It's no coincidence that in the county there's a 55% jail booking rate for black children. Furthermore, 37% of children within Sac County's CPS system are black, while only 10% of children in the county are black.
As we have seen time and time again, the county doesn't like listening to experts. The county thought things would be better at the WET center. Advocates told the county things WOULDN'T be better. They didn't listen, and here we are today.
The county is arguing that they can't do anything because they don't have enough funding from the state. While the county and the state are bickering, we continue to fail our youth.
THE COMMON REFRAIN THAT THE COUNTY CAN'T AFFORD TO PAY FOR PUBLIC SERVICES IS A LIE.
THEY CAN PAY FOR THEM, BUT THEY WOULD NEED TO STOP GIVING SUCH AN ENORMOUS CHUNK OF THE BUDGET TO LAW ENFORCEMENT.
PUBLIC SAFETY IS NOT ABOUT POLICING.
Going back in time for a moment...
Everything we're saying in this write-up, and all the services we KNOW are needed to right this situation are the SAME things we've BEEN saying. We wrote about the foster care system in Sacramento County back in June of 2021 (almost exactly 2 years ago), and we're still saying the same things. The italicized text below is pulled from the aforementioned 2021 write-up:
Just 20 minutes before a judge announced that a jury found former Minneapolis police Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, we saw the loss of life of another Black person at the hands of a police officer.
This time it was Ma'Khia Bryant (pictured above), a 16-year-old girl who was running toward two young women with a knife when an officer shot her outside the foster home she had been living in for about two months.
What we need to do: Take the Funds Divested from the Police & Sheriff Budgets & Invest Them in Services that Prioritize Keeping Children with their Biological Family
Children in foster care have experienced abuse, neglect, and other adverse childhood experiences that can negatively impact their physical and mental health. Foster youth living in group homes are 2.5 times more likely to get placed in the criminal justice system than youth placed with foster families. Additionally, more than 90% of youth in foster care with five or more placements will enter the juvenile justice system. By age 17, over half of foster youth have experienced an arrest, conviction, or spent at least one night in a correctional facility.
The foster care-to-prison pipeline particularly affects youth of color, LGBTQ-identified youth, and young people with mental illnesses. Black and Native American Children are far more likely to be removed from their homes, even when the circumstances surrounding the removal are similar. Black children are overrepresented in foster care and already face implicit bias and police brutality because of the color of their skin.
Youth are removed from their families and placed in a foster care system that has a shortage of adequately trained case workers and may not be teaching coping skills or safe conflict resolution methods in every foster home.
There needs to be more funding redirected toward helping parents keep custody of their kids, as well as funding to prioritize supporting kinship care when children are not able to stay with their biological parents.