The foster care system comprises many committed and passionate professionals. Unfortunately, it is also a system that is overwhelmed and overburdened.
- Each Juvenile Court judge carries an average case load of approximately 500 cases.
- Every dependent child is assigned to an attorney. The attorney represents about 150 children.
- Every family is assigned to a social worker to manage the case. Social workers carry an average case load of 16 to 25 cases.
- The average amount of time children spend in foster care in San Diego County is 40 months—that’s three birthdays spent away from home.
- Many children remain in foster care long-term. These children will never return home and will never be adopted.
San Diego County’s Foster Care System
The Child Welfare Services division of the San Diego Health and Human Services Agency is tasked with caring for children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. After receiving a phone call on the child abuse hotline, where an estimated 80,000 calls are received per year, a social worker investigates reports of abuse and determines whether the children can safely remain in their homes. If not, the children enter the foster care system—a legal and social services system that becomes the official “parent” of those children.
Parents who have abused their children are offered a wide array of services to assist them in regaining custody of their children. If their children are under the age of 3, the parents are expected to show progress with their case plan within 6 months of the children’s removal from their homes. If the children are over the age of 3, the parents may have 12 months in which to show progress. At the end of 18 months (sometimes longer), the parents should be ready to have the children returned to their care or the children may be eligible for adoption.
Hearings are held at least every six months for every child in foster care. At these hearings, the Juvenile Court judge makes decisions about whether the children can be returned home, whether the children should be adopted instead, what kinds of services the children need, and what kinds of visits should take place with the family.