Young Minds Advocacy Project (YMAP) and the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) released a report today on foster youths’ access to mental health services in Alameda County, California. Alameda County is located on the Eastern shore of San Francisco Bay and includes the city of Oakland. The report, funded by Alameda County Health and Human Services Agency, details the challenges faced by foster youth who cross county lines in getting adequate mental health care under Medi-Cal. This statewide challenge affects more than 12,000 young people. The report describes these children as “out-of-county” foster youth.
According to the report, “Out-of-county foster children . . . may wait months, or even years, for appropriate mental health treatment or be denied treatment altogether, despite federal and state laws that entitle all foster youth to adequate care. Data suggests that children sent out-of-county have greater needs and less access to most types of mental health care.” Alameda County had more than two thousand children in care as of February, 2012, and the study reports that almost half of them were placed out of county. Statewide, 20.2 percent of foster youth live out of county.
Group homes are especially concerning, according to the report, “because of the research suggesting that youth in group homes have a higher incidence of mental health needs.” Analysis by YMAP and NCYL concludes that children placed in group homes are more likely to be sent out of county than children placed in family foster homes, and in Alameda County, the trend is increasing. In 2008, Alameda County sent 51.5 percent of its group home youth to another county. By 2012, that percentage had increased to 61.5 percent.
Alameda County was in the top 20 percent of counties in terms of the amount of mental health services provided to foster youth, according to a state report on foster youth access to care that was analyzed in the study. The County is also a leader in serving out-of-county youth, and “only two counties were at the same or higher level of service intensity” as Alameda. Nevertheless, “Alameda showed similar patters to the state as a whole, with foster children placed out of county less likely to receive mental health services at all, and receiving fewer days of service for those services they do receive.“
The report makes four recommendations to improve access to care for out-of-county foster youth:
(1) Allow foster youth to choose to be served by the county in which they reside.
(2) Collectively fund the non-federal share of cost for out-of-county services.
(3) Improve collaboration among child-serving agencies, including child welfare, probation, schools, and county mental health.
(4) Gather better data on mental health services supply and demand and improve intra-county information sharing.
Read the full Report.
Do you have concerns about out-of-county access to mental health services for foster youth? If so, please let us hear about them. It is only through coordinated public action that this challenge will be overcome.
February 11th, 2013