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Q & A with Marin County Children and Family Services

June 4, 2020

By VALERIA GONZÁLEZ | June 4, 2020 at 12:00 pm

In recognition of April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month and May as National Foster Care Month, Canal Alliance spoke to Leslie Fields and Paul Booth from Marin County Children and Family Services (CFS) and Lucia Martel-Dow, Director of Immigration and Social Services at Canal Alliance about the work each agency does individually and in partnership to ensure the safety and protection of children in Marin. 

We hope that this series of articles will bring more awareness to the issues of child abuse and neglect, foster care, and our collective work to ensure that Latino children and families have the resources they need to succeed and thrive. Information is also included about the need for Spanish-speaking foster parents/resource families and other ways that people can volunteer with CFS to support children and youth in our community. 

To learn more about Marin County Children and Family Services (CFS) programs, we talked to Adrian Hernandez, Child Welfare Worker II-Bilingual, Leslie Fields, Recruitment & Support Specialist and Paul Booth, Resource Family Approval Manager:

What’s one example of a successful collaboration between CFS and Canal Alliance?

One example of our partnership with CFS is the case of a 19-year-old in extended foster care who works closely with Canal Alliance.

From Andrew, Bilingual Child Welfare Worker: I am currently working with a 19-year-old in extended foster care who works closely with Canal Alliance. This youth lives independently in Marin County in a Supervised Independent Living Placement approved and supported by the Marin County Health and Human Services Department.

Through Canal Alliance, this youth has a case manager, receives legal support from their immigration team and also attends their English classes. I have worked closely with the youth and her Canal Alliance case manager to ensure she has access to all necessary services and continues to work towards her goals of learning English, obtaining her GED and gaining legal citizenship. We have also linked this youth with the Independent Living Program to further support her with achieving her goals, building life skills and linking her to services.

Tell us a bit about the services offered by CFS.

Marin CFS is part of the County Health and Human Services Department. CFS is tasked with investigating and providing services to youth and families within Marin County who have been abused, neglected, or left without a caregiver. There are several paths a child and family can take after a report has been made, including the removal of a child, followed by reunification or another permanent option outside of the home when reunification is not possible. CFS also provides case management services once families are reunified, and has recently expanded preventative voluntary services with families who are high risk.

How do the issues of child abuse prevention and foster care awareness affect Latino families?

Many Latino families share a culture of migration, language and oppression, which varies based on gender, age, ability, and socio-economics. These avenues intersect with child welfare, creating disproportionate negative outcomes for youth who come into foster care. Latinos are not unique with regard to the impacts that mental health and substance abuse have on parenting and child safety. However, it is often their immigration status, finances, and history of complex trauma that create barriers to the families’ ability to keep their children safe and within their own community.

For example, recent public charge legislation has spread fear within the Latino community, as disinformation has resulted in a decline in the number of families accessing public benefits they qualify for, adding an additional barrier for immigrant families.

Recently, we’ve seen reports stating that child abuse tends to peak during times of crisis. Can you tell us about how this is impacting families in Marin County during the COVID-19 crisis?

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and HHS Child Welfare Director Bree Marchman said family members and friends need to be especially wary of tempers and tension flaring within sheltered households.

“Everything we know from our experience is that child abuse goes up in times of crisis,” Marchman said. “Statistically we saw jumps during the last economic recession, and the severity of physical abuse seen at hospitals went up as families’ financial situations got worse. All of the stressors that typically increase risk for abuse are here – financial pressures, food insecurity, and housing insecurity – which all can lead to an increase in mental health distress and alcohol and drug use. At the same time, domestic violence is also up, and one of the most common calls we get is about kids being witness to and affected by violence in their homes.”

What are some of the services that CFS provides for families?

More information can be found here.

Can anybody access these services or is there any criteria for accessing services?

CFS provides in-person investigations for all referrals that meet the criteria for investigation that include allegations of physical abuse, sexual abuse, general neglect, severe neglect, caregiver absence, or domestic violence where children are present. The child must be under the age of 18 and reside in Marin County in order for an investigation to occur. Youth who reach the age of 18 years old while in foster care are eligible to voluntarily remain in foster care and continue to receive services until age 21.

What are some of the common foster care myths and misconceptions?

One common myth is that foster youth are dangerous. This is simply not true. Youth come into the child welfare system through no fault of their own. They may exhibit challenging behaviors as a result of the trauma they have experienced and out of fear of being separated from their families, but they are kids like any other: funny, athletic, creative, shy, musical … And like all children, they can thrive in a nurturing and consistent home. While we cannot take back a traumatic experience, we can counteract it with positive ones.

Another myth is that people foster children for the money. Not true. Yes, foster parents/resource families do receive a stipend, but it is provided to offset the cost of raising a child. The stipend is to be used for the child’s needs, such as food, clothing, toys, educational supplies and personal hygiene items.

Some people who foster fear getting too attached to the children and having a hard time saying goodbye when the child is returned home. It’s true, you WILL get attached. It’s true, it IS hard to see them leave. And while saying goodbye is never easy, it is important to keep in mind that this child had to say goodbye to their family when they were placed with you, and they survived! Be inspired by their strength and you will find your own, right when you need it! And know that returning home does not mean that resource families will never see the children again. In many cases, resource families are able to stay in touch with the children and become a part of their larger support network.

600Marin County Foster Youth

Why become a foster parent, now known as a resource family?

Fostering a child is an impactful way to give back to your community while doing what you enjoy most by sharing your unique interests and skills with a child. Helping a child and their family through a difficult time can be a life-changing experience.

Marin County needs more resource family homes: 30 percent of our youth are placed out of the county due to a lack of homes. In an ideal world, there would be homes throughout the county so that a child could remain in their home community and continue at their same school.

Testimony from a current resource parent and her 16-year-old daughter: “Overall, it’s had a very positive impact on both of our lives. It’s opened up my daughter’s eyes to how many people need help and how we can help contribute in a small way. She loves volunteering for the Marin Foster Care Association and wants to do it every chance she gets. For me personally, it’s been very gratifying to still have a very strong relationship with the two foster children who were our first placement. We have sleepovers, go on outings and they now have a relationship with our current placement. 

Should you become a resource parent? YES! If it makes sense for you and your family. For my daughter and I, the positive outweighs the negatives tenfold even on the challenging days. There will always be a reason to not do it, but I challenge you to look into it.”

Who can become a resource parent?

Any adult who is willing to be part of a team that provides safety, nurturing and consistency to a child in need may apply to become a resource parent. Those without parenting experience need not worry because we provide training and support. You may be single or a couple (married or not) or own or rent your home. Immigration status is not considered, though you will need to provide identification to conduct a background check.

What if I want to help CFS but don’t have the capacity to become a resource parent?

While not everyone is in a position to foster a child, any adult can volunteer with Friends of the Family after going through an approval process. Children and Family Services links community volunteers, or Friends, with resource families caring for children that can use some assistance. A screened Friend can help with transportation, provide bought or prepared meals during times of transition, or donate goods or services. The volunteers will receive training and support from social workers.

Why is it so important to have Spanish-speaking resource families?

Finances, physical housing, past criminal history and/or a history with Child Welfare often create barriers to anyone becoming a resource parent. CFS has seen these barriers, especially finances and housing, prevent potential resource parents who speak Spanish from stepping in to care for children at risk of harm.

In addition to myths about ineligibility due to immigration status, many Spanish-speaking families were unaware of the requirements, responsibility or supports available for becoming a resource parent. The result was making it more challenging for Spanish-speaking families to keep their children safe within their community, forcing several youth to be placed as far away as San Joaquin and Stanislaus County.

The increased distance between children and their parents undoubtedly affects reunification services, and more importantly, a child’s attachment to their family and community. With a lack of available Spanish-speaking resource families, CFS is tasked with assessing whether a child should be placed in a home where they can communicate in their native language or placed closer to home; a decision that should not have to be made in the first place.

What is National Foster Care Month about?

Every May, we celebrate National Foster Care Month by taking time to acknowledge resource parents, family members, volunteers and other community members who support youth in foster care. We appreciate the resource families who make a meaningful difference in their lives.

How can individuals help to promote National Foster Care Month?

Individuals can promote National Foster Care month by applying to become a foster parent/resource family! Other ways to promote it is by learning more about it at FosterourFutureMarin.org, and sharing the information and supporting resource parents in our community through the Marin Foster Care Association.

Related articles:

Child Abuse Prevention and Foster Care Awareness

Lupita nominated for the 2020 Outstanding Child Abuse Prevention Award

Any incident of alleged or suspected child abuse, or a reasonable suspicion of abuse, which comes to your attention should immediately be reported to the Marin County Children and Family Services (CFS) Reporting Hotline. CFS Emergency Response is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to receive and assess allegations of child abuse, neglect or exploitation.
Please call: (415) 473-7153. Children and Family Services (CFS) Emergency Response. 

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