The Press Democrat's recent article on foster care group homes brings focus to the important role that the Sonoma County Children's Village plays in our community ("Struggle to stay open: Children's Village falls below capacity as referrals from county dry up," Feb. 28).
The Children's Village is unique among group homes. Its children reside with trained house parents who provide enriching activities that focus on each child's interests and talents. Its emphasis on keeping sibling groups together promotes stability and a successful transition to adulthood.
The Children's Village is able to provide its services thanks to the generous support of its donors. These donors know that well-run group homes are an integral part of the foster care system.
Nick Honey, the director of Sonoma County's children's services, has forged a vital partnership with the Children's Village since it opened in 2006. He and his staff continue to support the village, even though AB 74 restricts their ability to place children there.
Sonoma County residents should not accept a policy that results in the under-utilization of a facility like the village. Studies have shown dismal outcomes for foster children who do not receive needed support. Within four years of leaving the system, 25 percent will be homeless, 40 percent will go on public assistance and 50 percent will be unemployed. More than 70 percent of all state penitentiary inmates have spent time in the foster care system.
The Children's Village program is designed to minimize these negative outcomes. Of the 57 children served at the village, 19 have successfully reunified with family or into foster homes. In 2013, 50 percent of the children had a GPA of 3.0 or greater. Village "alumni" are enrolled in college and gainfully employed.
I have been a practicing attorney for more than 25 years. Early in my career, I worked on juvenile cases and witnessed the immense cost of California's juvenile justice system. I serve as a member of the Children's Village board of directors because I know the village provides children with the tools they need to stay clear of our courts and prisons.
The number of children going into the foster care system is not going to decrease in the future. It will increase. When the AB 74 experiment has run its course, it may leave in its wake children damaged by early return to unfit families or multiple placements.
Residents of Sonoma County should realize that dollars saved under AB 74 will pale in comparison to the cost of caring for young adults who missed the opportunity to benefit from the services provided at the Children's Village.
Concerned residents should do two things. First, visit the Children's Village if you haven't seen it. You will discover a community that delivers unparalleled care to foster children. Second, contact your elected officials. An effort is underway to re-classify the village, so that it will not operate under the constraints of AB 74.
Our state senators, Assembly members and county supervisors need to know you support this effort. More information is available at the Children's Village website: www.thechildrensvillage.com.
Mark A. Miller is board president of the Sonoma County Children's Village in Santa Rosa. He lives in Santa Rosa.
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