In the early morning hours of December 7, 2009, my wife and I received the call that would change our lives. A baby girl had been born in Woodland the day before and needed a good safe home. We responded immediately and a few hours later, I got the call from Yolo County staff that we needed to go pick up the little girl at 3 pm.
I texted my wife, who was in the middle of a meeting, to meet me in Woodland to pick up the baby girl at 3 pm. Despite months of classes and training, nothing could prepare us for the reality about to settle in.
December 7, 2009, was in the middle of a deep cold snap, and it was about 17 degrees. It was not until we got to the hospital and I saw the little tiny baby that reality really hit me – they were going to trust me to take care of this little life and I was scared to death.
Despite our preparation of getting a room and some supplies – anyone who has had a baby can probably realize that having about four hours to prepare is not the same as a nine-month lead up. That is where people like Cherie Schroeder, the Director of the Foster & Kinship Care Education, really earns her money.
For months she had been training us, but at a moment’s notice, she dropped her busy schedule and took my wife Cecilia on a shopping spree for supplies – she had numerous gift cards at her disposal and probably spent over $250 on things that we needed.
Less than two years later, in October of 2011, we were able to adopt our little Jasmine, who has just turned five two weeks ago and, as everyone knows who knows us, is doing amazingly well.
One of the things we learned in our training is why foster care and putting resources into it is so vital. You are talking about an extremely vulnerable population – you are pulling little kids, some newborn like Jasmine, others as old as teenagers, from at times horrific and dangerous conditions – drug houses, sexual and physical abuse, neglect, violence.
The prognosis for foster care children who age out of the system is incredibly poor – drugs, violence, prison, homelessness. For every success story are countless other tragedies.
But we don’t have to have to accept this and, in Yolo County through the help of First 5, we don’t.
Eight years ago, Yolo County was like any other, with only 32 active county foster homes, and with over 90 percent of our community’s children placed outside of the county. Now, because of the success of the program, Yolo County has 90 county licensed foster homes, and well over 50 percent of our children are placed in local families.
Yolo County has among the best programs in the country – we have placement stability, foster family retention, and family reunification rates that are extraordinary.
Among other things, the funding goes to recruitment efforts for foster families, emergency child care and respite through programs like the Yolo Crisis Nursery which provides foster families “non-emergency care” for drop-in respite, and very importantly, emergency child care for up to 30 days at the time of initial placement.
There is also additional support like Baby Signs, Trust Building and Attachment classes.
The foster care program is cost effective, as well. They have demonstrated significant savings to Yolo County, both fiscally and in terms of personnel. Conservatively, using an estimated $1,000 per month/per child saving, when a child is placed in a local licensed foster home over the next level of care, that of a certified foster family agency placement, each year alone is $360,000 saved by the county.
The program works. For example, Yolo County has one of the highest high school graduation rates in the state for foster youth, so that fewer and fewer children are needing the highest levels of placement – group home or residential – and we have significantly more youth who are attending college.
I raise all of these points because funding for the program is now in some jeopardy. Last week, we covered the story about the shakeup at the county with regard to First 5 with Supervisor Don Saylor being removed from his position as the board representative on First 5 Yolo Commission.
Supervisor Oscar Villegas moved to remove Mr. Saylor both from the First 5 Yolo Commission and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments Board of Directors. These were the only recommended changes from the list that Supervisor Matt Rexroad put forward.
Supervisor Saylor pushed back on both moves, stating that “neither of them are good changes to make.” However, he noted that the SACOG move would be “extremely unwise” given that he had just been elected incoming chair of the board of directors, a position that would put Yolo County in a significant position of influence in one of the foremost land use agencies in the region.
While Mr. Saylor argued that there was significant turnover on First 5 Yolo, which will have four of its nine members turning over and is in the midst of a strategic planning process, Mr. Saylor stated, “I’m also aware that there is some concern about the work that I have done and I believe that the board has a need to have confidence in what happens in that arena.”
Supervisor Villegas quickly backed off the SACOG move when he recognized he lacked the votes. Supervisor Jim Provenza agreed that Supervisor Saylor should stay on as the SACOG representative.
First 5 has gone through serious hardship this year, with a 50 percent reduction in First 5 Yolo’s annual operating budget anticipated for the 2015 Strategic Plan duration. Based on that, Executive Director Julie Gallelo in her report noted, “Not all of the goals and objectives outlined in the Commission’s Strategic Framework could be funded.”
She writes, “Through consensus, Commissioners identified five goals, which fall within a funding range of $625,000 on the low end, to $925,000 on the high end. These goals are classified as Tier 1 level because they scored highest during the prioritization exercise.”
She added, “The Commission also identified three goals which ‘tied’ for sixth place. These goals are classified as Tier 2 level and will be considered for funding if there is money remaining after allocating dollars to each Tier 1 goal.”
The concern, of course, is that the highly successful foster care program was among the funding that was pushed to second tier status.
Critics have pointed out questionable decisions by the First 5 Commission to spend down its fund reserves in the last several years.
The decision by First 5, a partner of the county, to remove a vital and important program without notification to the board of supervisors has drawn the ire of many.
A finger has been pointed to Don Saylor for overseeing these decisions, as well his failure to inform his board of those decisions. The board found out earlier this fall by happenstance, when a key stake holder raised the issue of the funding cuts to the Foster Adopt program, much to the surprise of the rest of his colleagues.
However, on Tuesday nobody would state that and the discussion coincides with a board retreat in which the issue of rotation of duties was raised. Nevertheless, the only two changes proposed were to Don Saylor’s duties and the only one that went forward was his removal from First 5.
Jim Provenza agreed to fill the seat, with Don Saylor taking on the role as alternate.
Matt Rexroad and Don Saylor dissented on the 3-2 vote.
More importantly at this point, however, is the need not to point the blame, but rather to ensure that the funding is in place to keep this vital program going, and I believe all five members of the county board of supervisors are in support.
—David M. Greenwald reporting