Show Up & Speak Out

Back Commentary Jan 12, 2018 By Gail Johnson Vaughan

We are Families NOW. That’s Families NOW, not tomorrow, not next week. We remove the systemic barriers that cause our children to languish in foster care. We show up, and we speak up at the tables where child welfare policies and funding decisions are made, and in the halls where legislation is passed.

Every November I lead a vigil on the steps of the Capitol, calling out names and ages from a list of California children waiting in foster care for permanent families. Last November, there were 38,000 names. I was joined by 82 other readers in 2016: civic leaders, legislators, media anchors, adoptive parents, child welfare leaders and professionals, youth, advocates and concerned citizens. Each read page after page of names: “Jaime, age 16. Erika, age 9. JJ, age 15. Benji, age 2. Latisha, age 17.”

It breaks my heart. Most of these children will never find the permanent family they long for, and instead move from foster home to foster home, until they age out of the system alone to face heart-breaking outcomes — within two years 50 percent of them will be homeless, in prison or dead.

Related: Compassion Planet Employs Aged-Out Foster Youth and At-Risk Teens

Related: New measures call for significant reform to offer foster youth a better chance at permanent homes

The children’s hope for permanent families is shrouded by “barrier beliefs” — myths that dissuade county decision-makers from making specialized permanency practices available to these children — like the myth that no one would want to adopt a teen or child with challenges, that counties can’t afford to provide permanency services for children previously considered “unadoptable” or the myth that a youth’s hesitancy to risk further rejection means they don’t want a family at all.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Successful specialized permanency services now show that building a permanent family for even the hardest-to-place youth is achievable. Sacramento County stands in the spotlight as the premier county putting these practices to work through their Destination Family Permanency Program. Not only that, Families NOW has documented innovative funding methodology that demonstrates investment in these practices provides our counties a return on investment far exceeding the cost of the services. The county could save up to $106,000 per child for every year the youth would have remained in care.

Sacramento County has put that methodology to work to sustain and expand services launched with a federal grant in 2003. Now, 25 percent of the children who have been waiting for two years or more and cannot reunify with birth parents receive support from the Destination Family Permanency Program. It’s a no-brainer: We have a moral and fiscal imperative to provide these services.

We are Families NOW. That’s Families NOW, not tomorrow, not next week. We remove the systemic barriers that cause our children to languish in foster care. We show up, and we speak up at the tables where child welfare policies and funding decisions are made, and in the halls where legislation is passed. Our legislation and policy work clear away system barriers to allow the direct service child welfare agencies to be successful. The work of Families NOW is foundational, changing the entire orientation of how the foster care system ought to work.

We are advocates, working outside of the public view. Some say we are superheroes in the shadows. We are proud to have brought a focus on permanency as the pathway to the best outcomes for children in foster care. Our child welfare systems now understand they are failing if they keep young people in foster care rather than finding and supporting permanent families for them. Families NOW shows the state and counties how and helps our elected officials realize that they can’t afford not to provide these services.

Because of our work, many names of Sacramento region youth are no longer called out on the Capitol steps — because they now have permanent families. Like Raul, who was almost mute from trauma when he was adopted at age 14 and is now an Eagle Scout; Angel, who felt lost and hopeless until she met her adoptive mom Jeannie. Now she and her brother Stevie are reunited and adopted together in Jeannie’s home; or Diandra, who was adopted at age 16 despite her developmental delays. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, more children in our region and across California who can achieve permanent families thanks to our advocacy.

Our work would have little value without our excellent nonprofit partners who work tirelessly to meet the needs of children in, or at risk of, foster care. You will meet many of them in the pages that follow. They help birth parents heal and grow so their children can return home; they advocate for the children in court and provide mentors who give them love and wisdom; they recruit, train and support the families who step up as forever families for the children who wait.

These agencies, as well as Families NOW, rely on charitable contributions to make their work possible. Our children are our future. Investing in those who had a rough start is investing in the quality of our lives as well as theirs.

This story is part of the 22nd annual Capital Region Cares, Comstock’s special publication dedicated to nonprofits and charitable giving. You can order the 2017-2018 edition online here. To submit your nonprofit success story for consideration in next year’s edition, fill out this online form.

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