Differences between youth in the foster care system and the criminal justice system – Why the difference in treatment?

Certain similarities exist between the children and youth in the foster care system and those in the criminal justice system. Often these youths are in unstable housing, have parents who might have substance abuse or domestic violence issues, have difficulties in finishing a high school education and behavioral issues while in school. In addition, they are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system as adults and not have as much stability as compared to the general population. This comparison is not to conflate the two populations, but to explore and analyze the different treatment between them. Foster youth receive certain benefits during their time in the system that are not afforded to children in the criminal justice system. My research would explore the differences in treatment between the two populations, why there is a difference, and hopefully generate some policy suggestions to create better outcomes and safer communities. My thought from the outset is if youth in the criminal justice system were given some of the benefits and/or services afforded to foster youth, they might have better outcomes than there are now. The benefits to this approach would hopefully be better experiences for youth growing up in turbulent environments, taxpayers wouldn’t have to spend as much on incarceration, and society as a whole would be safer and better to some of our most vulnerable citizens.  

My name is Pedro Naveiras and I am a second-year law student at Santa Clara University. Prior to law school I worked in education and local government, but I went to law school knowing I wanted to be a prosecutor. I attended CSU Bakersfield studying Philosophy and Political Science. I worked for the Kern County District Attorney’s Office last summer and will be clerking at the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office this summer. I look forward to learning more about the approaches and taking this knowledge to whatever District Attorney’s office I end up working at.

The U.S. Foster Home Shortage: Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire


The foster care system has me pulling my hair out. Everyone agrees it’s broken. That’s pretty much all they agree on. I don’t think that anyone wants to hurt kids, but the system as it is does just that. Politics can be maddening, but nothing puts it in perspective like a child’s suffering. Still, I can’t scream at the ceiling about the ways of the world forever (I guess I could, but what’s the point?). I want to figure out how to work around the bureaucracy to help kids.

I think the most pressing issue is the shortage of foster homes, so I’m starting there. It’s interesting to think about how many other problems are caused by this one. Placement instability leads to inconsistent schooling, which leads to inadequate education, which leads to fewer future opportunities for a child. Often the only option in a strained system, group homes are a hotbed for further abuse and neglect. I hope that addressing the foster home shortage can have a lasting positive impact on multiple issues.

Over the past five years, the number of children in foster care has increased by 10 percent, while the number of homes is dropping. Growing social problems like the national opioid crisis and inadequate affordable housing are among many factors contributing to this problem.

In the past three years alone, California has spent an estimated $140 million on efforts to increase the number of foster homes. Legislation is blooming around the country with measures to recruit and approve more foster families. In January 2018, Arizona lawmakers made changes to their kinship placement program which prioritized placement with non-parent family members. California is also speeding up its approval process for kinship placements. California and South Carolina reworked their licensing standards so that more families could qualify to be foster homes. In Washington state, officials raised the maximum number of children that can be placed in a foster home in an emergency.

What are these programs, and will they work? Through my research this Spring, I will compare programs from around the country and analyze their impact. I will also look at the spiderweb of problems that are connected to the foster home shortage, and what practical solutions lawmakers should use to address these issues.

Doing It Yourself hurts Dually Involved Youth

My name is Aaron Rojas, I am a second year law student at Santa Clara University. I grew up in San Jose and have had to overcome my fair share of obstacles to get where I am today. While completing my undergraduate degree at San Jose State University, I spent time volunteering in the Franklin McKinley School District. Many of the children I mentored faced tough academic challenges as well as challenges at home. I could tell that these challenges would eventually contribute to their struggle for success later on in life. It was this experience that motivated me to attend law school because I feel I will be able to have a greater positive impact on my community. This semester I plan on learning more about the intersection of the foster care system and the juvenile justice system.

Dually Involved Youth (DIY) programs provide wrapped services for families who are involved in both the foster care and juvenile justice systems. This approach increases the child’s chance of achieving positive outcomes, including educational achievements (like graduating from high school or college) and life success (like maintaining a job, having housing, and staying out of prison). DIY programs facilitate communication between different service providers to provide access to the best combination of services for the family. Increased communication leads to better problem solving.

The problem is that DIY programs are not the standard in many jurisdictions, meaning many of the most at risk youth get inadequate services. By increasing communication between the agencies involved, better decisions can be made in placement of children and services for both parents and children. I will propose making DIY programs standard in jurisdictions across the U.S.

When Discretion Goes Wrong: Government Agencies and Removal of Children.

Hi, I’m Lauryn Barbosa and I am a second-year student at Santa Clara University School of Law. I was born and raised in the Bay Area and received a B.A. in Intercultural Peace and Justice Studies, with a minor in History, at Holy Names University in Oakland. During my undergraduate studies, I was exposed to, and became passionate about, social justice. What I learned about the injustice of our criminal “justice” system, coupled with the experiences of members of my family affected by that system, drove me to attend law school. I hope to become an attorney to advance social justice by representing indigent clients in criminal defense.

Throughout this policy seminar, I will be exploring the role that the police and the Agency ― the majority of California counties refer to Child Protective Services under that moniker ― play in the removal of children and how reliance on its discretion results in an inconsistent application of the law. In 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held in Demaree v. Pederson that “there is no qualified immunity for investigators who remove children from a home without a warrant or immediate threat of serious physical harm to the child at all.” In this instance, a couple appealed an order of summary judgment in favor of a social worker who was alleged to have committed a violation of their constitutional rights. The couple faced criminal charges and their children were removed from their home for a month after a Wal-Mart photo technician reported photos of their children in the bathtub. A police officer made an unsubstantiated recommendation that the children were being sexually abused, which the social worker decided was determinative ― even though the children underwent medical exams for sexual trauma that came back normal and there was no other evidence. While this decision was essential for accountability and should be celebrated, this is just one instance in a sea of many where the state’s intervention did much more harm than good.

As mentioned above, local agencies retain broad discretion, under California Health and Institutions Code § 300, to remove children and this often leads to inconsistent application of the rules, especially when it comes to substance abuse related neglect. This is the niche area I will hone in on. Because every family situation is unique, I understand the necessity of some discretion on the part of the government agencies. However, I believe this unbridled discretion has created a culture where children are either snatched away from their families and placed in foster care preemptively or suffer serious harm or death because the state refuses to step in. There has to be a way to develop better statutory and policy standards that can hold the Agency and the police accountable before the only relief available is a lawsuit, since at that point the damage is already done and the trauma has already been inflicted.

This area is of particular interest to me because I have witnessed the lives of children be severely impacted by the decisions of the police and the Agency in this exact area and the courses of action were drastically different in each case. While the cases I witnessed first-hand will not be the focus of my research, I will use other cases to compare the facts and identify patterns in the actions of the Agency and police officers regarding the removal of children. I will also use current police manuals and policy guides to demonstrate the issues with current protocol. I am intending to use those patterns and current policy guides to formulate policy recommendations that will provide for a more consistent application of the state’s obligation to protect children under California Health and Institutions Code § 300.

The Perils and Promises of Localism in Juvenile Justice

My name is Farouq Ghazzawi, but I prefer to be called Vince. I’m half Middle Eastern (Saudi Arabia & Egypt) and half Hispanic (Spain & Peru). I was born in Saudi Arabia and lived there for several years, after which I lived in London, England for a year, before finally moving to the United States when I was 8 years old. I grew up in Riverside, CA. I received my B.A. in Political Science and History from UC Davis, my M.A. in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, and I’m here at Santa Clara Law to receive my J.D. in order to become a District Attorney. I have interned at the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office in both the Misdemeanor and Homicide Units, and this summer I will be interning at the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office. My goal is to be a prosecutor for a decade or so in the hopes of then running for elected office. I am committed to fighting for criminal justice reform and equality. Before coming to law school, I planned to work for the NSA as an Intelligence Analyst, but I declined their job offer in order to pursue my childhood dream of going to law school.

I signed up for this class because, as someone who aspires to become a prosecutor, I feel it is my duty to learn about the foster care and juvenile justice system. My hope is that with the knowledge I gain that I can make a positive difference when I have prosecutorial discretion. Additionally, I signed up for this class because I wanted to help be a part of something bigger than myself and work towards crafting legislation that can improve the foster care and juvenile justice systems. I’m a firm believer that our criminal justice system is unfair, especially for people of color. I also believe how a government spends its money is a reflection of who it thinks is important and worth saving, the more a government invests in its people the more that government values its people.

The theme of my research and writing will be “The Perils and Promises of Localism in Juvenile Justice.” In my exploration of this topic, I will be researching whether—and why—California should have local variations of juvenile justice. We have statewide statutes—why, then, is there not a state-wide system of monitoring and enforcement in California? Are there state-wide systems that we could use as models? And would it be more efficient to have a state-wide system instead of 58 different county systems? I will also explore how localism plays out in the criminal context, looking specifically at whether electing a new Chief District Attorney makes a difference for the office’s culture. I’ll assess the immense change Larry Krasner’s election as DA of Philadelphia has had on the office and by extension the office’s programs (with a special focus on Juvenile Justice issues). I will conclude by suggesting ways in which policymakers can assign local discretion to maximize good outcomes and minimize bad ones.

White Saviorism in the Foster Care System

My name is Erin Flowers and I am a third year at Santa Clara University School of Law. Having worked in the foster care system as a former social worker in New York City, I’m passionate about finding ways to ensure that the system works well for the children and families it serves.

This semester I’ll be researching and analyzing the foster care system in California, looking to see what role the White Savior Industrial Complex plays. The White Savior Industrial Complex is a term coined by Teju Cole in his 2012 article The White Savior Industrial Complex published in The Atlantic. The term is used to describe the idea that white people often think they know best and “do good” by “saving” poor people, while ignoring the policies they have supported that created the very inequalities and systems of oppression poor people suffer from. Continue reading “White Saviorism in the Foster Care System”

The Playground as a Battlefield: Exploring Adverse Childhood Experiences and Damage to Mental Health

American foster care children are twice as likely to experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than veterans. Additionally, in the United States, adults who have experienced 6 or more ACEs during their childhood are 24.36 times more likely to attempt suicide than a person without ACEs. What is causing these children to experience such severe trauma? Recent studies have examined and categorized traumatic experiences in adolescence, calling them adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s). I would like to examine one particular ACE that many youth, in particular foster youth, share: parental incarceration.

For any child, it is traumatic to watch as law enforcement officers arrest and remove a parent from the home. However, law enforcement intervention is usually an indication of something much more alarming: criminal acts in the home. Those activities, like substance abuse and domestic violence that often become criminal, are additional ACE experiences that will effect the child. Foster youth experience parental incarceration at rates that surpass their peers. 40% of children in the foster care system have experienced the ACE of parental incarceration  The Health Resources & Service Administration’s 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health ACE study found that within the subsection of youth who had experienced parental incarceration,  90.6% of those children had additional ACE scores. Knowing the detrimental effects of ACEs, we should take use the event of parental incarceration as an opportunity to talk with the child and the incarcerated parent and provide them with mental health services to treat the trauma they have experienced.

My name is Lucy Duran and I am a third-year student at Santa Clara University School of Law. My emphasis is in criminal prosecution. I have a passion for social justice and keeping my community safe. I have served as an intern at the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office and am a volunteer with the Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY) Program in San Mateo County.

I believe that helping children attain resources to provide them with a safe, healthy foundation to flourish is of vital importance to the community. Before starting law school, I worked as a youth volunteer as a teacher. I have taught Sunday School children ages 3-7 for the last 6 years and worked as a Summer camp counselor for two years. Additionally, I served as a youth director for ages 3-18. I’ve had the privilege to work with youth from a variety of backgrounds and it is important to me to try and provide children with the tools to thrive as adults.

Why are we Failing in Scaling Up our Successful Pilot Projects?

My name is Dayaar Singla and I am an international exchange student from India’s National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) University of Law, Hyderabad. My interest in this course was piqued by Prof. Ball’s description of how this is a “class as a think-tank”. Further, it is extremely interesting for me to study the Foster Care System in California as the entire concept is extremely alien for someone from India. This helps me in providing an outsider’s perspective to the class discussions.

In my understanding, resolution of any policy issue follows a 4 step process which can be shown as:

While my colleagues will be working on identifying the various problems that exist with the Foster Care System in California and attempt to propose solutions to rectify some of them, I due to my lack of understanding of the US socio-cultural and political system have decided to look at a broader problem that policymakers seem to be facing. In a number of social programs, we seem to be coming across the replication crisis which has been previously documented in scientific research. While some solutions proposed at Stage II seem to give successful results when they are tested in a pilot project, policymakers seem to be failing in being able to replicate the results when these projects are scaled up.

Over the series of my blog posts, I will first be introducing the replication crisis, as has been observed in other fields; then I will analyze successful pilot projects which failed to replicate their success when they were scaled up and attempt to draw out the commonalities between them. Finally, I will try to provide best practices that might help policymakers in designing pilot projects which eliminate some of the commonly observed factors leading to their failure on being scaled up.

The Indian Child Welfare Act: Past Acts and Future Reform

My name is Nandini Ruparel, and I am a second-year student at Santa Clara University Law School. This semester, I will be focusing my research on the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), enacted by Congress in 1978. ICWA requires that, if a child becomes a dependent of the court and may be eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe, the tribe has primary jurisdiction over the proceedings. In a practical sense, it means that if the child is eligible for membership in a Native American tribe, it is likely that the child will end up with a family from that tribe. Each individual tribe has different eligibility requirements for membership.

ICWA was enacted in response to a disproportionate amount of Native American children being taken from their homes and placed in non-Native families. Congress found that local social services–and the social workers they employ–lacked cultural and historical understanding of tribal customs and familial child-raising practices.

Currently, there are only two Supreme Court cases that set precedent regarding tribal rights within ICWA; Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, decided in 2013; and Miss. Band of Choctaw Indians v Holyfield, decided in 1989. Neither concerned equal protection questions or the constitutionality of ICWA. Last year, in October, however, a federal judge in Texas struck down ICWA as unconstitutional because it uses a race-based classification. The 5th Circuit issued a stay of proceedings, meaning that ICWA, as written, is still in force until the court hears the expedited appeal in March of this year.

In my exploration of the topic, I will be researching the following questions:

  1. What happens to children who are put back in tribal families because of ICWA? Do they feel less/more connected to their heritage? What does the research say, and is there any research that compares the outcomes of these children as compared to foster care kids in general?
  2. What are some policy ideas that have been suggested regarding ICWA? Currently, ICWA remains unchanged from its enactment in 1978, despite bills from congressmen and women over the years to amend the act—some as recently as 2003 (pdf, J-STOR).
  3. Who does support ICWA, and why? Who does not, and why? For example, some research says that ICWA puts the best interests of tribes over the best interest of the child and is unconstitutional under the equal protection doctrine. Others say that the act is the only way to protect Indian tribes from discriminatory acts by social service agencies.

Ultimately, I want to use this research to answer this key question: if we were going to propose policy changes to ICWA, what would be the best changes to benefit both children and their Native American families?

Trauma, Education, and Foster Youth

My name is Monica Willey and I am a second year law student at Santa Clara University School of Law. I was born and raised in East San Jose, California. After graduating from the University of San Francisco in 2008, I worked in San Jose’s Alum Rock Union School District in various capacities, including teaching middle school. I’ve worked with many students that had educational and emotional needs that simply could not be met with the resources the school had available. It is this injustice that led me on a journey to law school. This semester I plan to bring you four segments on the way in which foster youth interact with the education system in California.

First, I will look at the ways in which trauma affects learning by looking at various studies and what schools might do as a response to some behaviors that are exhibited as a result of trauma. Second, I will explore foster youth in particular and how removal from the home and many other aspects of the foster care system cause trauma. Third, I will investigate ways in which California’s public school system is and is not equipped to deal with foster care youth and their unique needs. Lastly, I would like to suggest what could be done in order to have more successful foster care youth in terms of their educational achievements.