CA foster care advocates ask lawmakers to fund in-person response teams

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
California's Family Urgent Response System's mandate is to be available to send an emergency care team to any California foster family within one hour. Photo Credit: DimaBerlin / Adobestock

Advocates for foster families are pressing lawmakers to save the Family Urgent Response System from the budget ax.

California faces a $37.9 billion deficit and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s initial proposal zeros out the program’s $30 million budget.

Susanna Kniffen, senior director of child welfare policy for the nonprofit Children Now, said the program provides a 24-hour helpline for foster kids and their caregivers and funds a mobile emergency response unit in all 58 counties.

“We haven’t seen a cut like that to foster care in a very long time. Decades,” Kniffen pointed out. “Even when there are tough budget decisions to be made, generally you protect your children and you definitely protect your most vulnerable children, which are foster youth.”

The state created the program in 2019. Then the pandemic hit, so counties got the mobile response teams up and running starting in 2021. California has about 46,000 children in the foster-care system. The helpline averages about 5,000 calls a year. More than a quarter involve requests for a team to come to the home.

Kniffen noted more and more foster youths and their caregivers are starting to rely on the program for support and conflict mediation.

“We finally started to get youth trusting it and using it and, all of a sudden, we’re just sort of pulling the rug out,” Kniffen argued. “It’s going to be very difficult for the adults in the system but it’s going to hit the youth the hardest because this is one of the only options that they have to call and get support for themselves.”

This issue will be heard in legislative committees in the State Assembly on April 3, and in the state Senate on April 25. Lawmakers have until June 15 to pass a balanced budget.