Advocating for Children with Disabilities in the Foster Care System

By Teresa Anderson, Public Policy Director, The Arc/UCP California Collaboration

There are over 60,000 children in the California foster care system and approximately 33% of those children have a chronic health condition, and more than half of the children under five have a developmental delay. It is difficult to say how many foster youth in total have a developmental delay because the state does not keep separate data in the number of children with disabilities in foster care. Often the children enter the foster care system with limited family or developmental history. However, some studies estimate anywhere from 30% – 60% of children in foster care have a developmental disability (depending on how they defined developmental disability – some include special health care needs and physical disabilities while other studies did not).

A California Health Report – How Families are Advocating for Children with Disabilities in Foster Care – reports that children with disabilities have a harder time being placed with foster or adoptive families [now called “resource families”] because they often require more specialized care, therapy, or special education services. Part of the challenge comes from the fact that the Resource Families are often under resourced – insufficient medical supplies to provide appropriate care, limited information about the children, limited access to services and supports that would help provide for the unique needs of the child and family – are just a few of the challenges cited when it comes to providing care to children with more complex needs. Recent efforts by the state to improve supports for foster children and resource families, as well as streamline access to services for kids with disabilities and youth with mental health needs could help with these challenges. Recent foster care reforms such as Assembly Bill 2083, Foster Youth: Trauma Informed System of Care (2018) and the Family Urgent Response System (approved by the Legislature in 2019) seek to address some of these systemic issues and increase support for children with disabilities in the foster care system as well as the Resource Families. The full report can be read here:

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