Law enforcement, Probation, and the courts may often encounter young people and families who are unable to access the necessary resources and supports to meet their basic needs. Families may be experiencing homelessness, income loss, illness, or some other crisis that requires additional support for the young person to feel stable and supported at home. Other times, the family’s needs are relational, and they need support to preserve, heal, and grow after a family conflict.
The purpose of the juvenile court and its agents is to “preserve and strengthen” family connections “whenever possible,” removing the youth from their home only when necessary for the youth’s welfare or public safety. Probation has an obligation to first assess if system intervention can be avoided, or at least minimized. At the moment that Probation has reason to believe that the minor is at risk of entering foster care, Probation must make reasonable efforts to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of the minor from his or her home. When Probation recommends detention, it must demonstrate to the court that it has met its obligation to determine whether returning home is contrary to the youth’s welfare and whether reasonable efforts can prevent or alleviate the need for removal. Reasonable efforts may include connecting families to counseling services, linking parents with housing and other basic needs supports, making referrals or connections to mental health or behavioral health treatment, arranging for substance abuse services, or providing any other available support that meets the goal of a safe return home. If the youth is removed from the home, reasonable efforts to reunify the youth and family would also include facilitating regular contact between youth and their parents. Determining which services will best support families is done through the case planning process, which should be meaningfully undertaken whenever detention or removal is considered, so that Probation can implement reasonable efforts immediately and prevent removal in the first place. The Youth Law Center’s publication, Juvenile Justice Transformation: Navigating the Legal Landscape, Part 6: A Legal Map of Non-Custodial Residential Options in California, discusses this process in more detail.
Families experiencing homelessness may be eligible for some form of housing assistance depending on their jurisdiction. For families that are eligible for CalWORKs (the state cash aid program for low-income families), a parent or relative may apply for Homeless Assistance (HA). HA pays for emergency shelter (i.e., hotel accommodations) for up to 16 consecutive days. If the family finds permanent housing after the 16-day period, they may be eligible for permanent HA to assist with the costs of the new permanent housing (e.g., security deposits). Families can request HA once every 12 months, with some exceptions. The family does not have to be currently receiving CalWORKs at the time that they request assistance, but they must show that they would be eligible for it. For purposes of HA, a family is considered homeless if “the family lacks a fixed and regular nighttime residence,” if the family is staying in a shelter, if the family is staying in a place “not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings,” or if the family has received a notice to pay rent that could lead to eviction. Families can apply for Homeless Assistance through their county social services agency. Probation Departments and county social services agencies can identify liaisons within their departments to process CalWORKs and HA referrals quickly. CalWORKs and HA are one type of basic needs intervention that Probation can use to address the root causes of a youth’s juvenile delinquency system involvement and prevent the need for removal.
Similarly, law enforcement and Probation can develop procedures for referring youth and families to local shelter and housing resources, in partnership with local homeless assistance agencies, also known as “continuums of care” or “CoCs.” CoCs often have an updated list of available shelter or housing resources and can assist families in applying for housing and other basic needs programs.
For families facing emotional or interpersonal crises, there are evidence-based programs available through Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program providing health insurance to individuals who are low-income. Importantly, beginning in Jan. 2020, California began making all youth under age 26 eligible for Medi-Cal, regardless of immigration status, as long as they meet income eligibility requirements. Youth whose households qualify as low-income or who receive aid through other public programs such as CalWORKs, SSI, AFDC-FC, Kin-GAP, and AAP, are eligible for Medi-Cal. California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs), also known as cash aid or TANF and administered through county social services agencies, is a financial assistance program for low-income families and individuals who are pregnant. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a monthly financial assistance program, administered through the Social Security Administration, for children and adults with disabilities. Aid to Families with Dependent Children-Foster Care (AFDC-FC), also known as foster care, is monthly financial assistance for foster care youth placed in out-of-home care, including in the home of an approved relative, and for youth in court-ordered guardianships with non-relatives. Kinship Guardianship Assistance Payment (Kin-GAP) and Adoption Assistance Program (AAP) are financial assistance programs for former foster youth for whom the juvenile court has ordered legal guardianship with a relative or adoption, respectively.[/fn] Families receiving Medi-Cal may be eligible for such Medi-Cal programs as Functional Family Therapy (FFT) and Positive Parenting Program (Triple P). Guided by the California Integrated Core Practice Model (ICPM), Probation should implement interagency referral processes so that families do not have to go through Probation to access mental health and family counseling programs, and can instead access these programs as long as necessary through the county mental health care agency and community-based organizations.
Similarly, Probation can refer youth who are at risk of out-of-home care to Wraparound services, a strength-based and individualized process of supporting youth and families. Some Probation Departments customarily use Wraparound as an intervention for youth at risk of entering foster care placement or for youth in a family-based foster care placement. But, the Wraparound program model is also available through Medi-Cal’s Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) entitlement, which is available to all Medi-Cal youth for whom it is medically necessary, not only youth with system involvement. Youth who can be diverted from the juvenile court system may be more appropriately referred to Wraparound services, as well as other home-based mental health services, through their health care provider or county mental health agency.
Lastly, jurisdictions can take advantage of new prevention services resources available through the federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA). California will begin implementing the FFPSA in October 2021. After that date, jurisdictions can use federal funds to provide certain evidence-based prevention services to families when a young person is determined to be at imminent risk of foster care placement without the support of prevention services. Prevention services may focus on parenting skills, mental health, or substance abuse. Because some FFPSA prevention services, such as Functional Family Therapy and Multisystemic Therapy, can also be paid through Medi-Cal, it is important for all jurisdictions to coordinate closely with their local healthcare agencies in advance of FFPSA’s implementation to ensure timely and coordinated delivery of prevention services, regardless of funding stream.