The California state Senate voted unanimously today to approve Sen. Nancy Skinner’s SB 354, which will remove obstacles from children in the foster care system being placed with a relative caregiver who may have a past conviction, once the placement has been fully vetted to ensure the child’s safety. Earlier on Friday, the state Assembly passed SB 354 on a vote of 49-0. The legislation now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom for consideration.
“The research is clear: Children who live with a family member thrive far better than youth placed in institutional or non-familial foster care settings,” 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 a parent or relative. Further, if a child is put in a non-familial foster placement 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 the adult relative receiving a certificate of rehabilitation or going for years without an interaction with law enforcement.
And even when a relative with a prior conviction is granted custody of a child, under current law the appeals process can take years, which can leave a child in a temporary home and subject the child to the trauma of being separated from their family.
SB 354 would remove barriers to children being placed with family members by:
- Ensuring that any existing relationship between a relative caregiver and a child is considered in decisions regarding home approval and placement
- Limiting obstacles that can cause placement delays or denials for prospective relative caregivers by:
- Waiving income requirements when appropriate and supporting relatives in accessing necessary supplies, such as cribs, car seats and booster seats
- Broadening the list of convictions that qualify for exemptions and simplified exemptions.
- Clarifying that the court shall use its independent judgement in placement decisions
Sen. Nancy Skinner represents the 9th Senate District, is chair of the Senate Budget Committee and vice chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus.