Sacramento, Calif.- by Robert J Hansen
Hundreds of people from around the state showed up at the California State Capitol to bring awareness to the harm Child Protective Services (CPS) have caused children and their families today.
Elected officials, lawyers, advocates and families impacted by CPS all spoke at the rally.
Felicia Clark was one of several women to share their stories at the rally.
One of her daughters, Felicia Brent-Velasquez, was under the care of Sacramento County’s Centralized Placement Support Unit, a facility on Auburn Boulevard, when she ran away in April 2019 and was subsequently paralyzed in a car accident.
She died 19 months later of an aneurysm at home when was 19 years old.
Her other daughter, Kendra Czekaj, 12, died after chasing a resident of the receiving home who had gone AWOL. The resident she was chasing had run away from the CPSU on campus.
“At the end of the day I’m going to keep recording and keep documenting,” Clark said. “You have to document everything.”
Clark said she has a criminal investigation into CPS for
“I had my children, yet foster care checks were still going out for $5,000 per child. While you’re billing me for child support but I have my children, that’s welfare fraud people,” Clark said.
Stephanie Jeffcoat, an organizer for A New Way of Life Reentry Project, said she was incarcerated for six months when her daughter was adopted out to a foster home and was never notified of a court date or served any official notice.
“People will fight their trials for years but yet you can do an adoption in three months,” Jeffcoat said.
Jeffcoat said these policies were initially created to help the children who are still being separated from their parents who have been incarcerated.
“We see now that it is doing much more damage than it is good,” Jeffcoat said. “Incarcerated parents have proven time and time that they’ve turned their lives around.”
Attorney Brian Tan said the courts are severely lacking when it comes to family defense.
“There is a complete lack thereof in our court systems,” Tan said.
He said that the practice of routinely separating children from their parents that has been happening for decades comes from the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA).
“It incentivized states to have an adoption rate higher than the previous year and if that happens, every state receives financial incentives,” Tan said.
Tan said California is second only to Texas in adoption rates which have always been higher than the previous year.
“It only makes sense … that the social workers, county council, and even the judges would have the incentive to fast track these adoptions. And that’s what we continue to see.”
Assemblymember James Ramos of the San Bernardino area, said his new bill AB 1055, addresses Native American foster care kids who weren’t getting their legal services reimbursed.
“My bill 1055, now signed by the Governor, starts to bring to equal footing that legal reimbursement so Native American kids in the foster system get legal representation moving forward,” Ramos said.
California has over 60,000 children in the foster care system many of whom are disproportionately from Black and Brown families.
Ramos said we need to look at things that unify families and not things that keep families separated.
“I’ve been a longtime supporter of Time for Change in San Bernardino County, making sure mothers are reunited with their families,” Ramos said.
Senator Nancy Skinner also spoke at the rally who said her bill SB 354 was the first step to transform the policy so that we achieve laws that protect children and their families.
“That should be in conflict. We know that if a child ends up in foster care with a non relative caregiver at any point in their life, the likelihood of them ever being reunited with their family goes down,” Skinner said.
SB 354, now in effect, removes obstacles in the foster care system that have prevented children from being placed with a relative caregiver who may have a past conviction.
She said because of the unjust nature of the justice system, many children have relatives that have a past conviction.
“That past conviction should not alone be the thing that prevents them from being cared for by a family member,” Skinner said.