Kids in protective custody are doing worse

Intensifying issues, lack of placement options prompt county to more than double its contract with Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento

This is an extended version of a story that ran in the September 22, 2016, issue.

It’s gotten more expensive to care for kids in protective custody.

On September 13, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors more than doubled the county’s contract with the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento, which takes in youths between the ages of 1 and 19 who have endured abuse, neglect or some other trauma. The youths hail from the four-county Sacramento region, with 80 percent of them having been removed from their biological homes by law enforcement or social workers, the Receiving Home says on its website.

And while county officials say they aren’t removing more kids from their homes, the ones they are bringing to the Receiving Home more often need temporary shelter while social workers seek appropriate placements with relatives, foster families or group homes, said county spokeswoman Samantha Mott.

“Over the last 18 months, we have been seeing children with higher-level needs, and many local group homes are unable to take them into their care due to their inability to adequately address their needs or due to their behaviors that jeopardize the safety of staff and/or other children in the facility,” Mott wrote in an email.

Those needs run a wide spectrum, from kids with significant mental health or medical issues to engagement in unsafe behaviors, like substance use and aggressive or assaultive behaviors, Mott noted. The youths also frequently try to flee their placements, Mott said, sometimes because they’re being sexually exploited or simply because they don’t want to be there.

Earlier this spring, during a group talk session at Wind Youth Services’ former downtown drop-in center, several homeless youth expressed intense dissatisfaction with their experiences in area group home placements. Many said they were mistreated by staff, and some said they ran away as a result.

It’s not just a local problem, either. Mott said other California counties are encountering kids with more intense issues and fewer group homes that can or are willing to accept them.

“This is not a phenomenon unique to Sacramento; it is being seen in other counties across the state,” Mott explained. “While these are challenging issues to address and mitigate, it is important to remember that these youth have experienced significant trauma and their behaviors must be viewed within that context.”

Less than three months into the new fiscal year, supervisors agreed last week to expand the county’s Department of Health and Human Services’ contract with the Receiving Home by $280,000—a 105 percent increase to $546,708.

The county already had the money in additional state and federal funding, meaning officials won’t have to tap into their general fund.

Receiving Home staff didn’t immediately respond to telephone and email messages seeking comment. But according to the organization’s website, youths who stay at its private facility attend an on-site school and can choose to participate in after-school activities on and off the premises.

About half of the children who leave the Receiving Home go into foster care, its website states.