The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

May 17, 2010
California and Sacramento foster care numbers plunge

The number of children entering foster care in Sacramento and all of California is plunging, a trend being viewed as both remarkable and concerning.

A new report from the Public Policy Institute of California shows that, since 2000, the state has had a 45 percent drop in the number of children in foster care - even as the population of children increased. That development is reflected in Sacramento County, where the number of children in foster care dipped by about 35 percent between a peak in October 1999 and a decade later, according to data compiled by UC Berkeley's Center for Social Services Research.

While the study concludes that California has made "some remarkable advances" in the last decade, successfully moving children out of foster care and into stable placements, there also has been a "worrisome increase" in the percentage of children who return to foster care.

Again, Sacramento County has experienced the same trend. A Bee investigation published in June 2008 revealed that, among the 20 largest counties, Sacramento had the highest percentage of kids who land back in foster care within two years of Child Protective Services returning them to their families. Some child advocates blamed the churn on a push within Sacramento CPS to reunite families, along with poor assessments by social workers.

Sacramento County's re-entry rate has shown steady improvement in the last few years, though CPS officials acknowledge that steep budget cuts are affecting the way the agency does business.

"As a result (of budget and staff cuts), CPS is focusing resources on children with the most critical needs, and opening investigations only on cases that meet the strict legal definition of abuse or neglect," CPS officials said in a statement released this week.

-- Marjie Lundstrom

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