Newsom Budget Cuts Crisis Resources for Foster Parents

Last week, Ed Center, a foster parent from San Francisco County, last week told a budget subcommittee a painful story about reaching his breaking point during his son’s COVID-era mental health crisis, which included violent tantrums and the boy blacking out his face from family portraits with a marker.

“When we were in crisis, we needed Wonder Woman with a social work degree,” Center explained.

That’s what his family found in the Family Urgent Response System, a free, trauma-informed support system for foster youth and their caregivers.

The $31 million state program sends counselors out to foster families in crisis at all hours.

Now, as the state faces a budget shortfall that the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office predicted could be as much as $73 billion, the Family Urgent Response System and several other programs to support children and foster youth in new ways are on the chopping block.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s current budget proposal would eliminate the urgent response program and cut or eliminate several other programs that provide a safety net for families.

Center recalled one desperate night, when he got in his car and drove three hours away from home before calling for help.

“I asked the counselor a simple question. Why should I go back?” Center said.

The social worker reminded Center of how much he mattered to his son, even if  the then 10-year-old couldn’t show it at the time.

“I bought some crappy gas station coffee and I turned around for home,” he said.

That story brought tears to the eyes of state Sen. Caroline Menjivar, a Democrat from Van Nuys who chairs the subcommittee.

“Your kid could have been a statistic. He could have been homeless, died by suicide, or you would have had a broken family, and it wouldn’t have been your fault. It would have been because the system failed you,” Menjivar told the foster dad.

The governor has proposed at least $68 million in general fund cuts in services for children, families, and foster youth, as well as eliminating a program that helps former foster kids find housing, a housing supplement for foster youth, and a program that provides public health nurses for children, youth, and their families in LA County.

Menjivar asked why Newsom picked these child and family programs to lose all funding, while other programs aren’t being totally cut.

State officials said the family urgent response program isn’t being fully used in every county, but the governor is willing to work with lawmakers to find other places to cut.

“Things do have to get cut somewhere,” Menjivar later told CalMatters, pointing to media campaigns as an example. “But never, ever, ever from kids and our most vulnerable.”

Wendy Fry is a reporter with CalMatters.

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