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[whitespace] All Our Children

Who loses in a system plagued by high turnover and limited resources?

By Dara Colwell

THE TYPICAL PROFILE of a child placed in care in Santa Clara County is a nine-and-a-half-year-old Latino girl. Of the three main ethnic groups in the system, the wide disparity between their populations in foster care and within the general population is alarming. Latinos, who represent the majority of the foster care population at 46.4 percent, only make up 23 percent of the local population. While the reasons for this disproportion are varied, Gary Proctor, who heads Juvenile Defenders, reasons "poverty, neglect, drug abuse and domestic violence, unfortunately, have the tendency to live on the same street."

Within the paper-intensive court process that marks juvenile dependency cases, parents who are poor and uneducated face an overwhelming battle. Attorney Mickey Menzer, who left the public defender's office to enter private practice, says there are simply too few resources and too much demand. "If you get a crummy social worker, or your lawyer can't identify you out of a lineup, who's going to direct you and give you advice?" she says. "It's not a systematic commitment."

In Santa Clara County, the foster care system is reaching a crisis stage. With new timelines pushing placement for children within the first year of dependency, demands on foster homes have greatly increased. But the number of foster homes in the county has dwindled from 800 homes in 1991 to 471 homes in 1999. And the majority of those homes are reserved for children permanently released for adoption, making the available number of temporary homes just over one hundred.

Further exacerbating placement issues, the turnover rate for the department's social workers is also extremely high. According to a Board of Supervisor's report, roughly 20 percent of the workforce is currently vacant. Those individuals trying to establish stability for families who have entered the system, it appears, severely lack stability themselves.

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From the July 13-19, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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