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LA Times: Amid Budget Concerns, Newsom Pulls Back Funding Increase For Foster Care Advocate Program

Source: LA Times

Jaheim Smith “aged out” of foster care just last week, a transition that can be distressing for young people who have spent most of their lives in the child welfare system and for the first time are living on their own.

But Smith, recently 21, is confident in his new life. He is renting an apartment in Sacramento and works as a behavioral consultant for children with autism, teaching them skills that help them thrive in school. He works shifts at McDonald’s to make ends meet.

Smith attributes his newfound independence in part to the Court Appointed Special Advocates program. When he was 11, it paired him with a dedicated mentor who helped him over the years with everything from homework to acquiring a driver’s license.

The program recruits and trains volunteers assigned by judges to advocate for individual foster youth in a complex child welfare system struggling to provide enough much-needed social service workers.

But as the state grapples with a $22.5-billion projected budget deficit, CASA is facing a significant reduction in new funding that was meant to expand the program’s reach. Gov. Gavin Newsom in his latest budget plan has proposed trimming a $60-million commitment down to $20 million.

While Newsom administration officials say the move is among many “difficult reductions” necessary to fill the looming budget gap, foster youth advocates are urging the governor and lawmakers to restore that funding, calling the program a “life saving” service. They say that the program will save the state costs in the long run, as research shows that children in the foster system are more likely to become homeless or enter prison.

.... “These advocates can play a pivotal role in the outcomes of foster children and can change the trajectory of whether these young people enter our justice system or become homeless — or whether they go on to living healthy, thriving lives,” said Assembly Budget Chair Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), who supports maintaining the $60 million.