Where Will California’s Foster Kids Go?

SACRAMENTO -- When Gregory Farmer was 11 years old, he decided to run away.

It’s a threat we hear from some children, but Farmer was serious. He was running from a group home where he had been living as a foster child for three months.

“When I got taken from my house, I didn’t get to see my sisters, and I didn’t get to talk to my sisters,” Farmer explained. “That was one of the main reasons why I left.”

But he came back, more than 10 years later. Today, he works as a Youth Mentor at the same group home he ran from -- the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento.

Group homes are facilities where multiple foster children live together. David Ballard, CEO of the Children’s Receiving Home, believes group homes can provide supportive environments for foster children who have often experienced severe trauma.

“I truly believe that kids get better by being with other kids who have been through what they’ve been through,” Ballard said.

But the state of California disagrees.

“The research shows that children need to live in loving, committed families,” said Sara Rogers, branch chief of Continuum Care Reform at the Department of Social Services.

Continuum Care Reform, also known as CCR, goes into effect Jan. 1. The new law will phase out group homes from California’s foster system.

Rogers says living with a family is important for a child’s success.

“Children who grow up in a residential setting are losing the ability to establish long-term, loving bonds with caregivers,” Rogers said.

Under the new law, group homes will have to apply for licensing as a “short-term residential therapeutic program,” or STRTP. If they don’t, they will have to close. The program will only be available for children who need intensive care, and they can only stay there for a maximum of six months. The rest of California’s foster kids will be placed with foster families.

But in order for CCR to work, California needs to find more foster families. FOX40 reached out to several counties across the state, and all of them said there’s a shortage of foster parents. They all shared the same fear-- there won’t be a place for some of these kids to go.

“Recruitment of foster parents is an incredibly challenging job,” said Cherie Schroeder, an expert with the Foster and Kinship Care Education Program in Yolo County.

Schroeder supports the new legislation. She believes foster families do provide better living environments for children. But she says it’s not going to be easy to find parents.

“We don’t have enough families to take our children, and people aren’t always equipped,” said  Schroeder.

The Children’s Receiving Home also supports foster care reform. But the concern is that some kids are just not ready for foster families.

“I really get concerned that if you don’t stabilize and normalize before you send these kids to foster families, the foster families will be less than prepared, and these kids will continue to bounce through the system,” Ballard said.

The Department of Social Services set aside $50 million to recruit new parents and keep them in the system. It also plans to offer more mental health programs to help kids adjust to their new families.

“It’s not that there is no family who can care for the child,” Rogers said. “It’s that the family needs additional assistance and support in order to be able to care for the child safely.”

But for Farmer, the money and services may not be enough to convince families to open their homes to troubled kids -- the ones seen as too old and too hardened by the system built to help them.

“Not many families are going to want a 13-year-old kid out of juvenile hall," Farmer said. “Not a lot of families are going to want a 15-year-old girl who is verbally abusive. Where are these kids going to go?”

-- FOX40's Katie Talbot filed this report.