By Don Saylor
It is time to examine Yolo County foster care placements. Data reported by the California Child Welfare Indicators Project (CCWIP) on foster care placements in Yolo County reveal some disturbing trends http://cssr.berkeley.edu/ucb_childwelfare/. Significant policy changes made by the Board of Supervisors in 2016 contributed to dramatic increases in the number and rates of Yolo County children under 18 in out of home placement. These increases sharply reversed trends from prior years and set Yolo County on an entirely different trajectory than the state of California and neighboring counties. Moreover, the number and rates of increased placement for Yolo County’s African American and Latino children have been disproportionately higher than white children.
Yolo County placements increased by 68% from 2015 to 2019. Yolo County out of home placement rates tracked the state trend from 2009 through 2015 but deviated after 2015. From 2015 to 2019, the statewide number of children in out of home placement decreased from 54,914 to 52,150, a reduction of 2764 or 5%. The number of Yolo County children in out of home placements grew from 233 in October 1, 2015 to 391 on October 1, 2019, an increase of 158 or 68%. As of January 14, 2020, there were 408 Yolo County children in foster care.
The Yolo rate of 8.0 placements per 1000 children in 2019 is higher than 2/3 of California’s Counties and is higher than our neighboring counties (Sacramento 4.6, Solano 3.7, Sonoma 4.6, Napa 4.3, Placer 2.4, Colusa 5.7, Sutter 6.5). From 2009 through 2019, the California statewide number of children in foster care decreased steadily from 6.4 per 1000 children to 5.6 per 1000 children. Like the rest of the state, the rate of placements in Yolo County declined from 7.6 per 1000 in 2009 to 4.8 in 2015. However, beginning in 2016, Yolo County out of home placements per 1000 children increased steadily to 8.0 per 1000 on October 1, 2019.
African American children are more than 8 times as likely to be in out of home placements than white children in Yolo County. A special section on the CCWIP site entitled “Disparity Indices by Ethnicity” indicates that an African American child in Yolo County was 8.37 times more likely to be in out of home placement than a White child in 2019. The number of African American girls and boys in Yolo County in out of home placements increased from 35 in 2015 to 86 in 2019, an increase of 51 or 146% over 2015.
The Yolo County rate for African American males in out of home placements rose from 31.9 per 1000 in 2015 to a staggering 74.1 per 1000 in 2019. This out of home placement rate of 74.1 per 1000 African American boys in Yolo County is nearly four times that of the already appalling statewide rate of 22.6 per 1000.
Latino children have experienced similar increases in placements. In 2015, there were 94 Yolo County Latino children in out of home placements. By October 1, 2019, the number of Latino Yolo County children in out of home placements had increased to 166, an increase of 72 or 77% over the 2015 level.
Only 40% of Yolo County foster care placements are within Yolo County. As of July 1, 2019, 78% of all children in foster care statewide were placed within their own county. On July 1, 2019, only 42% of Yolo placements were within Yolo County. This trend is continuing. On Tuesday, January 14, 2020 there were 408 children in out of home placements supervised by Yolo County. Only 156 children, or 38% were in placements within Yolo County. This is less than half the statewide rate of 78% for placements within the placing county.
There can be good reasons to place a child outside the county. Sometimes there is a suitable placement with a relative or a program designed for specific needs. Many of these placements are simply made due to resource limitations within Yolo County. Smaller counties typically lack available local options. But this low rate of in county placements raises questions we should pursue.
Where do we go from here? I spoke and voted against several of the changes adopted by the Board in 2016 and have growing concerns. I am confident that the dedicated staff working in child welfare services in Yolo County do all in their power to make the best decisions to protect each child. The Board acted with a motivation to protect children from danger, partially in response to the horrible deaths of several children in the care of their own parents. There was an active interest in reducing barriers to removing children from their families to reduce risk of harm.
That happened – substantially more children have been removed from their homes. It may be entirely warranted and in the best interests of all concerned, but removing a child from their family is a major decision. When there is severe and significant adversity, removal from the home is necessary. However, removal itself can cause trauma and adverse childhood experiences. Federal and state policy, judicial precedent, and evidence based practices all point toward a primary focus on strengthening families and reuniting children with their birth families.
We are currently undertaking the first statutorily required comprehensive self-assessment of child welfare services since the 2016 policy changes. I will be asking a number of questions when the Board hears an update on that review later this year. Has the pendulum swung too far? What outcomes are children and their families experiencing? Are there policy and process refinements that should be made? In Yolo County we care about evidence and continuous improvement. I am confident that we will advance our shared commitment to improving the lives of children and their families. It is time to reassess.
Don Saylor is a member of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, representing District 2, including the communities of Davis and Winters, the UC Davis campus and rural areas in the southwestern area of Yolo County.