State Must Address Foster Youth Crisis

There are moments in a lifetime when you consider yourself fortunate for the community in which you live. In my life, I have been inspired by bold and courageous individuals who worked tirelessly to give of themselves for the greater good of all people, especially those who are most needy. This region seems to have more than its fair share.

Last Friday morning I spent over two hours in historic McDonnell Hall at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in East San Jose. It was the setting and the original church of our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, where Cesar Chavez and Father McDonnell, 1952-55, educated and organized farm workers. McDonnell Hall is a newly recognized city landmark and could become a National Historic Landmark in 2012.

I was proud to be present as a guest during State Assemblyman Jim Beall’s hearing to develop an action plan to lead the state toward more efficacious and cost-effective ways to nurture the needs of foster youth. With the data indicating that Latino youth in Santa Clara County make up 64.1 percent of the caseload, it is essential for state leaders to work collaboratively with the leaders of Santa Clara County to develop the components of a plan—perhaps a pilot plan for the state—to reduce the number of children, especially overrepresented Latino youth, in foster care.

To work on this aforementioned goal, a standing-room-only crowd of elected leaders, CBO representatives, interested citizens from the city of San Jose, County of Santa Clara and Sacramento came together to hear testimony from four diverse expert panels. Dolores Huerta, who along with Cesar Chavez co-founded the United Farmworkers Union, urged the state to develop more parenting classes for immigrant families. Huerta said San Jose has been a leader across the country in social justice.

Claudia Mendez, a 21-year-old student attending San Francisco State and a former foster youth, implored the leaders to fund programs that reduce alcoholism in the Latino community, which leads directly to domestic abuse. Mendez believes more consistent outreach to Latino families about the services currently funded and available could be beneficial. Too many parents, she said, do not know the services for which they might be eligible.

There appeared to be strong consensus that the system currently spends a disproportionate amount of public dollars to take children away from parents and place them in foster care. This practice can lead to an itinerant life of constant moves for children who too often end up in the juvenile justice and adult prison systems. If children must be removed for their personal safety and well being then culturally competent homes are essential. Currently they are in short supply.

The Harvard Consensus Project, in negotiating and mediating, was mentioned by several panelists as a seminal building block of our new local action plan for families in crisis.

Increasing the number of Latinos on policy boards related to foster youth is one more critical factor several panelists advocated. And there was no doubt that the quality of education a child receives early in life correlates with a reduction of poverty rates. Therefore, the elected leaders are on the right track by advocating for ending the achievement gap by year 2020. We should always seek to improve public education for all children so that each and every child has a quality school and classroom to attend.

Frederick Douglas asserted, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” San Jose and Santa Clara County are at a crossroads today in an era of declining funding to make our region a model for children to thrive. Today, I am encouraged by the leadership demonstrated by Assemblyman Beall and his colleagues to do a more effective job with foster youth than our current system has done, based on the data in the past.

Reducing the number of foster youth while improving the lives of families in crisis is a laudable goal. No doubt this is another social justice issue that if we work wisely together we can address righteously.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. Wikipedia writes:
    “Huerta was an equal-opportunity endorse, sponsor and speaker for several American communist/marxist/trotskyite parties including the Socialist Workers Party SWP.”

    Di Salvo writes:  “Huerta said San Jose has been a leader across the country in social justice.”

    Well isn’t that special. 

    Hugo Chavez #1 fan-grrrl Dolores Huerta thinks San Jose social justice is top shelf. 

    That, in a nutshell, pretty much tells you all you need to know about SJ city government.

    1.  Secure the border and throw business owners who knowingly hire illegals in jail.
    2.  Starve the beast.

  2. I am so incredibly sick of every week reading from Joe diSalvo that ‘we’ (meaning ‘you all’) must do this thing or that thing. I’ve challenged his ideas in the past regarding ways to improve the education system, suggested that creating a system wherein public schools must compete with private for student dollars would force schools to improve themselves, that eliminating middle levels of bureaucracy would free more money to educate students and observed that Californians get very little bang for their tax bucks considering how much of our budget goes toward the public education system.

    Frankly, every missive issued by Mr. diSalvo – the patently disprovable assertions, the imperious directives defining what everyone must do, the smug air of superiority and blithe assurance that he knows better than everyone else how to raise/educate our children – all of it reinforces my belief that Mr. diSalvo epitomizes everything that is wrong with our education system and that he is patently incapable of creating meaningful, worthwhile and useful changes in our education system.

    • He is in the public school system.  Doesn’t that automatically mean he is an expert on education?  He would never have a personal agenda regarding the expansion of public schools, educational administrations or social programs would he?  Isn’t every teacher or school administrator completely altruistic in their motives?

  3. A simple solution to lowering this county’s disproportionate percentage of Hispanic foster kids is be to increase the local African-American population. Statewide, African Americans make up 7% of the child population yet represent 28% of the state’s foster kids; but in Santa Clara County, where African Americans represent less than 2.5% of the population, there are simply not enough of them to stabilize the Hispanic ratio (note: Asians and Whites are underrepresented at both state and local levels).

    Think of it this way, if 28 out of every 100 foster kids in California are African American (in a population where only 7 of every 100 children are), then in a county where that 7/100 population ratio drops to 2.5/100 a significant impact on the foster child population is inevitable. Even if that local 2.5% of the population produces foster kids at the statewide rate of 400%, it would still leave the county short 18 of its expected 100 foster kids (the difference between 400% of 7 and 400% of 2.5). Left with 82 foster kids for factoring (instead of 100), that statewide Hispanic rate* of 47 foster kids per 100 becomes 47 per 82 locally, or 57%! Viola! Instant disproportion!

    Mr. DiSalvo, let me frame this terms you’ll find familiar. If your school receives 100 free cafeteria tokens per week and your 7 African American students are slotted for 28 of them (28%), while your 42 Hispanic students have 47 tokens earmarked for them (47%), the percentage of Hispanic students receiving cafeteria tokens will rise every time an African American student transfers out of your school. Should all 7 of your African American students move away the percentage of tokens going to Hispanics would jump to 65%, even though you’ve handed them not a single extra token.

    Tell me, would you sound the alarm? Would you immediately cut the number of tokens going to Hispanics to get the percentage down to the approved ratio? Or would you attribute the Hispanic student’s obesity to the sudden spike in their token ratio?

    What are we dealing with here, Sir, a credibility gap constructed on fraud or stupidity? I mean, sure some of the folks involved in selling this crock can be excused for being too stupid to understand the simple math, but you?


  4. Mr. DiSalvo is a hero !!!
    He’s there fighting for the cause , for education , and for the youth of today.

    Sadly with the state & city budgets going bust . At risk youth are likely to end up on the wrong path .

    Even I hear that Juvenal Hall might be closing . So the street kids go right to prison .

    This is not a matter of race . It’s a matter of saving .& getting out out poverty .

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