The California state Senate voted unanimously, 38-0, today to approve Sen. Nancy Skinner’s SB 354, which would expand opportunities in the foster care system for children to be housed with relatives and non-relative extended family member caregivers, provided that the child is not endangered.
“Children in our foster care system do far better when they can live with family members or relatives. Research suggests living with relatives helps children develop better attachments and suffer fewer behavioral and educational challenges,” said Sen. Skinner, D-Berkeley. “SB 354 will remove barriers that prevent children from being placed with family members, and ensure that the placement is safe for the child.”
California currently has over 60,000 children in the foster care system — children who are disproportionately from Black and Brown families. According to the Child Welfare Indicators Project, Black and Latinx children are 2.8 and 1.22 times more likely to have contact with the foster care system than their white counterparts. Many of these children have family members with a past conviction that creates a barrier for the child being reunited with their parents or relatives. Further, if a child is placed with a non-relative foster parent at any point in their lives, being reunited with their family becomes even more challenging.
Current California law still contains significant barriers to children staying with parents or relatives, or being reunited with them, if the caring and capable adult seeking custody has a prior criminal conviction. Under current law and practice, even relatives whose prior conviction is in the distant past or for a nonviolent crime face barriers to caring for their family member. These barriers remain despite an adult relative receiving a certificate of rehabilitation or going years without an interaction with law enforcement.
SB 354 would remove barriers to children being placed with family members by:
- Ensuring that any existing relationship between a relative/non-relative extended family member caregiver and a child is considered in decisions regarding home approval and placement
- Addressing obstacles causing placement delays or denials for prospective relative/non-relative extended family member caregivers by:
- Waiving income requirements when appropriate and supporting relatives in accessing necessary supplies, such as cribs, car seats and booster seats
- Allowing specified past convictions to qualify for exemptions and simplified exemptions
- Clarifying the court shall use its independent judgement in placement decisions
SB 354 now goes to the state Assembly for consideration.
Sen. Nancy Skinner represents the 9th Senate District, is chair of the Senate Budget Committee and vice chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus.