ATASCADERO — With Foster Care Awareness Month coming up in May, Atascadero-based adoption and foster care nonprofit Seneca Family of Agencies is ramping up awareness efforts in a push to find more foster families to accommodate the approximately 400 foster children in San Luis Obispo County.
The Continuum of Care Reform Act (AB 403), which began implementation in 2016 and will last through 2021, has increased pressure for organizations like Seneca to recruit more foster families. California Department of Social Services states that, under AB 403, group-home foster care “will be primarily utilized only for Short-term Residential Therapeutic Centers … and will be designed to quickly transition children back to their own or another permanent family.”
The phasing out of group-home foster care under AB 403 has put a premium on placing children in committed, nurturing family homes. This new model, however, does not come without its challenges: “With less children being placed in group homes, more children in foster care need individual foster families to care for them. This increased need has put an additional strain on a selection of foster families that is already stretched thin … there are currently 800 children living in group homes in California who now must vacate and find foster care placement with a family,” said Chandra Allen, Seneca Atascadero’s Placement program director.
An insufficient supply of foster families is causing more youth to age out of foster care without a kin support system. The consequences of such a phenomenon are grim: Within 2-4 years of exiting foster care, 20% will have been homeless; 50% will have been unemployed; 40% will have been incarcerated or on public assistance; 20% of males will become career criminals; 84% will become single parents; and 97% will never graduate from college, according to the National Foster Youth Institute. Additionally, more than half experience mental health challenges and 25% are diagnosed with PTSD — twice the rate of U.S. combat veterans, according to the National Council on Disability.
Organizations like Seneca are taking measures to address San Luis Obispo County’s foster care crisis: “Every effort must be made to provide loving, permanent homes for youth impacted by trauma so they can heal and grow. With our conviction that thriving families build a thriving community, Seneca trains prospective foster, adoptive or relative families, matches waiting children with families and strengthens families with continuing support including counseling and mental health services through our children’s mental health clinic,” said Tina Lehman, Seneca program director.
To learn more or to support Seneca, visit www.senecafoa.org.