Editor's Note: A version of this story first appeared on PSmag.com on December 03, 2015, with the headline "The Future of Foster Care in California." This edited version was published in our March/April 2016 print issue.
Group homes, which lack the kind of nurturing relationships thought to be developmentally necessary for healthy children, have historically been a last resort for foster kids. But a family placement does not guarantee a happy child; as Natasha Vargas-Cooper reported in our September/October 2013 issue, foster children typically bounce between at least three placements, and often as many as 10 or 12. Vargas-Cooper's piece focused on a lucky few who wound up at an unconventional home and school called the San Pasqual Academy. San Pasqual's campus has a high school that graduates students at twice the rate of foster teens across California, along with a farm, technology center, and cottages where the students live with adults who provide supervision.
Unfortunately, San Pasqual seems to be the exception. For over a year, ProPublica has documented reports of runaways, rape, and abuse allegations in overtaxed group homes. In response to the disorder, California Governor Jerry Brown approved new legislation late last year that promises to overhaul the system.
The new law aims to provide more support for the recruitment and training of foster families, and to limit group homes only to children who cannot be safely housed in family settings. Even then, the state hopes to limit the amount of time a child spends in group homes to "the minimum time required for stabilization," according to a report by the California Department of Social Services.
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