D. Heimpel

Daniel Heimpel's life as a journalist

The LA Times Follows on Kin-GAP Coverage

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December 30th’s Los Angeles Times features an editorial calling for the withdrawal of ACF guidelines, which preclude existing subsidized guardianship programs from being eligible for new federal funds freed by the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Opportunities Act of 2008. This is the third major publication to describe this situation and is another step towards seeing the guidance rescinded, which will be a boon to tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of foster kids across the country.

Momentum on Kin-GAP guidance

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On Dec. 14th I wrote a story about how the Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF) was engaged in a game of “chicken” with California’s Department of Social Services (CDSS).

The issue: ACF guidance that excludes state-run foster care administrations from accessing federal matching funds for kids who were already in subsidized guardianship programs before the passage of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions act of 2008. Fostering Connections provides federal dollars for states that start subsidized or kinship guardianship programs, wherein family members take in kin and receive foster care payments. The problem is that according to the ACF guidance: states can only access the money “prospectively,” meaning that the 27 states including California that have preexisting Kin Care programs can’t draw down federal funds for the tens of thousands of kids already in subsidized care.

So, CDSS is threatening to move kids back into care and out again to make them eligible for federal funds. While I understand why the ACF guidance is written as such, I argue in this piece for the Huffington Post, that rescinding the guidance is a huge opportunity to speed Fostering Connections’ implementation across the country.

Since my story appeared on Dec. 14th, I have been peppering the editorial departments of newspapers up and down the state. So far the San Francisco Chronicle has followed with an editorial on Dec. 21. I have been told that other editorials will follow.

Further, on Dec 18th Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) sent a letter signed by 31 California members of Congress to have the guidance rescinded:Kin-GAP CA Delegation Final

Slowly but surely momentum is building to have this guidance rescinded, which will pave the way for the sweeping implementation of Fostering Connections that foster kids so desperately need.

Foster Care (and me) on KPCC

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On Dec. 22 I was a guest one of a number of guests on KPCC (Southern California’s   Public Radio) for a discussion of the foster care system. We focused on the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services’ push for reunifying children with parents with often checkered records and what happens to youth when they “age out” of the system.

Underneath the title is a play button. If you go there you can hear the entire discussion.

The Price of a Sentence – Newsweek

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Please read the following story, which appears on Newsweek.com.

Over the last two weeks I started hearing some chatter from California advocates and administrators about the Golden State’s plans to recoup $60 million from the Federal Government in foster care payment.

In 2008, Congress passed, and Bush signed, the Fostering Connections to Success and Increased Adoptions Act. One of the laws most notable provisions was the extension of foster care to age 21. Another was federal funding for subsidized guardianship: payments to kin who take care of relatives that would otherwise end up in the foster care system.

This is where things get crazy. In the regulations given out at the end of Bush’s tenure, a stipulation was written in that states could only get funds for subsidized guardianship after the date of Fostering Connections being passed, Oct. 2008. In a state like CA and 26 others and the District of Columbia, which already have subsidized guardianship programs, this one sentence means that all the kids in kin care before that date are ineligible. In CA that means $60 million annually.

California is so desperate for that money that Child Protective Services is actually serious about moving kids who are in kin care back into straight foster care and then back out their family so that those kids are eligible for the Federal IVE funds. This would likely be a paper move, but disruptive none the less. Because of this one sentence it is fiscally responsible for California to go through this enormous task of moving kids back into the system just so that they can be eligible for funds. Further, in CA, where the budget is buckling the state is planning to use that $60 million to pay for legislation that would extend care to 21.

So the shining provision of Fostering Connections, extension of care, is in jeopardy all because of one sentence in the regulations.

Now, some members of congress are mobilizing to have those regulations change. The next phase will be their letters to Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families Assistant Secretary Carmen Nazario. The guidance is non-binding, so if enough pressure is applied Nazario could rescind it. That would free up hundreds of millions of federal dollars across 27 states and better the lives of tens if not hundreds of thousands of foster kids.

With one sixth of the nation’s foster care population in California, what happens there sets the tone for the nation. If the guidelines are changed and the $60 million flows into the Golden State, then it has a real viable chance at extending foster care to age 21 despite the buckling budget. That will be a catalyst for sweeping implementation of the Fostering Connections and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 – the most robust foster care reform of the past decade if not generation.

If you want to get involved the best thing would be to write to your Senator or Congressional Representative asking them to demand the guidance be rescinded.

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December 15, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Travel For Change

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This little story came out in the December issue of GO Magazine, Airtran’s Inflight. Small as it might be, Lao-tzu said it best: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

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December 4, 2009 at 5:12 pm

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Social Worker Tuition and California Prisons

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In this blog on the Huffington Post, I question how wise it is to increase fees for students of social work when they are already paid very little for the extremely important job they do. Unfortunately students of social work at both UC Berkeley and UCLA will have to pay increased tuitions – one bad fiscal choice among many cropping up in this time of prolonged budgetary stress.

Just this week I visited L.A. County’s Department of Children and Family Services, where the Independent Living Division (ILP) has seen the $1.4 million it used to receive from the State for a stipend for emancipated foster youth completely cut from their budget.  Rhelda Shabazz, DCFS’ Emancipation Division Chief, was livid about what the cut would mean. She held out a sheet with the entire ILP budget of $13 million and pointed out how her department would make up the 10% loss. DCFS was being forced to cut stipends for former foster youth’s: tuition, books & supplies, exams, clothing, scholastic and vocational administrative fees, apartment and dorm security deposits and transportation. All the small, huge things that can make the difference between a motivated young person making it and that same young person not having a fair chance to.

And when young people don’t make it, it is not only them who pay with time spent in prison, on the streets or under a pervasive malaise; it us as a society who pays the monetary bill of that failure and the moral toll of knowing that we let it happen.

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November 27, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Abominable Educational Expectations

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In this, my latest blog on the Huffington Post, I explore what we as a society have deemed as acceptable in terms of educational standards for not only foster kids but all kids. In the piece I mention a program to help foster youth in college.

There is also a very promising program going on in the Montebello and Pomona Unified School Districts in which social workers are placed in high schools to help foster youth better prepare for graduation and potentially college (only 2-3 percent of former foster youth ever graduate from a four year institution). The project, dubbed the First District Education Pilot Program, helped 18 youth graduate. Without the pilot 67% would not have been on track to graduate and 83% plan to enroll in a 2- or 4-year college, compared to 20% who enroll nationwide.

It is only a handful of young people. But a promising start.

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November 2, 2009 at 11:58 pm