|Budget Issue:||Resource Family Approval Project: request for delayed implementation|
|Program:||Department of Social Services (DSS)|
|Finding or Recommendation:||Reject the Governor's proposal to further delay implementation of the Resource Family Approval Project, and direct development of an alternative funding plan to provide for implementation in 2013-14.|
Relative caretakers, foster parents, and adoptive parents must meet certain health and safety requirements before they can care for foster children or adopt children out of foster care. While the health and safety requirements and approval criteria for relative caretakers, foster parents, and adoptive parents are substantially similar, there are separate approval processes for each of the three caretaker types. Some of the components of the approval process, such as criminal background checks, are duplicated when an approved foster parent or relative caretaker wants to adopt a foster child. There are also additional approval processes that foster parents must go through before adopting a foster child. In example, foster parents are not evaluated for substance abuse, mental health, and domestic violence through what is called a "home study." The lack of a home study for prospective foster parents results in delayed adoptions (for the many foster parents who seek to adopt their foster children), and potentially puts children at risk by not requiring foster parents to be screened for certain risk factors.
To address the adoption delays in the foster care/adoption caretaker approval process, and the absence of a uniform screening process for caretaker risk factors, Chapter 464, Statutes of 2007 (AB 340, Hancock), required the Department of Social Services (DSS), in consultation with county child welfare agencies, foster parent associations, and other interested parties, to develop a unified foster care/adoptive family approval process. The development of the new approval process is called the “Resource Family Approval Project.”
Chapter 464 required DSS to implement the project in five pilot counties before implementing the process statewide. Pursuant to Chapter 464, the implementation date for the pilot project was to continue through the end of 2010-11, or through the end of the third fiscal year following the date that funds were made available for implementation (whichever date is later). According to DSS, the Resource Family Approval Project has not been implemented due to budget and hiring constraints. Recent legislation, Chapter 35, Statutes of 2012 (SB 1013, Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review), reconfirmed the Legislature's intent that the Resource Family Approval Project be implemented. (Given the passage of time, Chapter 35 made some changes to the implementation schedule for the project. Chapter 35 did not make implementation of the project contingent on the availability of funding.)
The 2013-14 Governor’s budget submitted in January included $207,000 ($101,000 General Fund) and 2.0 positions to implement the Resource Family Approval Project. The Governor’s budget assumed that $70,000 of the requested funds would be paid through a reimbursement of 2011 Realignment funds from the counties. We reviewed the Governor’s budget request and found the workload data submitted in the budget change proposal justified the funding and positions requested.
The 2013-14 May Revise proposes to withdraw the administration’s funding request for the Resource Family Approval Project (as proposed in the January budget) and adopt trailer bill language that would specify that the project would be implemented no earlier than January 1, 2014, and only if funds for implementation are appropriated in the Budget Act.
The 2013-14 May Revise does not explain why the administration is withdrawing the entire funding request, but notes that the $70,000 in county reimbursements will not be available to offset state funding in the project. The administration learned that the $70,000 in county reimbursements would not be available when the administration consulted with the counties after the January funding proposal was submitted to the Legislature.
Reject Proposal to Delay Project; Administration to Provide Revised Funding Plan to Implement Project in 2013-14. Given that the authorizing legislation for the Resource Family Approval Project was adopted in 2007, this project has already been delayed for several years. The administration’s plan to further delay the project conflicts with the Legislature’s intent—expressed in 2012 legislation—that DSS continue to develop a streamlined foster care/adoptive family approval process. Accordingly, we recommend that the Legislature reject the Governor’s trailer bill language to further delay implementation of the Resource Family Approval Project and direct the administration to provide, at upcoming budget hearings, a revised funding plan to implement the project in 2013-14. The administration should consider opportunities to replace the $70,000 budgeted in January from county reimbursements either by redirecting existing resources or proposing alternative funding sources.