New law makes criminal background exemptions in foster care placements accessible

August 22, 2014

Governor signs Mitchell/Huff bill to ease placement when foster parent’s past record is no longer a bar

SACRAMENTO, CA — Governor Brown has signed into law a bill, authored by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), which will permit the California Department of Social Services (DSS) to share criminal history exemption information of foster care providers with county child welfare agencies.

By enabling state and county child welfare agencies to share facts and findings related to a prospective foster parent’s past criminal record, it empowers county social workers who often make foster placements in a vacuum. When a foster parent’s past record is investigated and determined not to be grounds for exclusion from providing foster care, the county workers tasked with placement receive no information about the nature of the crimes in order to determine an appropriate placement for a child. This puts some suitable foster parents at a disadvantage because of a past mistake, and can result in other cases where a child in placed inappropriately in an unsuitable foster home. SB 1136 earned the unanimous support of the State Senate and Assembly.

“Kids of color are disproportionately in the foster care system and in line waiting for willing homes,” said Senator Mitchell. “Yet  we have had a system where some potential foster parents have been unable to qualify because of past criminal records – even when an investigation has declared that they are not excluded – because that information could not legally be communicated to the agencies doing placement. Conversely, we’ve seen children placed in a home that would have never been considered if the county had all the information. This bill says, ‘Yes, State and County, talk to each other and find these kids good and safe homes’.”

California law had prevented county child welfare agencies like Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), from obtaining access to a listing of all non-relative foster parents and employees who have been granted a criminal exemption by DSS.  Due to the changes spelled out under SB 1136, counties will no longer be kept in the dark and can receive an explanation for each approved criminal exemption.  This allows county social workers to make better informed placement decisions prior to placing a child in a Foster Family Agency Home or State licensed home.

“When the state removes children from their homes for their personal safety, the state and county assume an obligation to keep these vulnerable children from greater abuse or neglect a second time,” said Senator Huff. Senators Mitchell and Huff introduced the legislation at the request of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, following dozens of abuse and neglect cases in recent years involving foster children who had been under the care of the county’s DCFS.