The Santa Barbara County Commission on Foster Care will host a summit from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott, 555 McMurray Road in Buellton, to engage the community on the most salient issues facing local foster care youth.

“We are dedicated to finding ways to engage the communities in foster care issues,” Commissioner Wendy Read. “So we came up with the idea of sponsoring a summit where we could bring people from around the state who have expertise in specific areas, and we match them with county officials. We want to get a big picture of foster care and bring it down to the county level.”

The summit will be open to the public and will facilitate a series of panel discussions featuring renowned leaders and local professionals related to children and youth in foster care. Breakout sessions will concentrate on the most pertinent dilemmas concerning Santa Barbara County foster youth.

Topics of discussion will include family finding and engaging fathers for foster children, educational rights and opportunities, health-care issues, programs helping youth in their transition out of the foster care system, and the county’s implementation of Assembly Bill 12/212, a law passed last year extending foster services to young adults older than age 18.

Santa Barbara County Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, who also serves on the county Commission on Foster Care, said AB 12/212 was utilized to acknowledge circumstances and hardships foster youth face as they age out of foster care and transition into adulthood.

“When kids age out of foster homes, we need to ensure they have a safety net available to them — whether it be continuing their education or getting a job,” Wolf said. “There is an issue of homelessness when the kids leave.”

About 600 children are under the care of foster parents in Santa Barbara County. One of the biggest obstacles facing the foster care system is the lack of foster homes in the southern portion of the county.

“There aren’t enough foster homes in South County, so when children are placed into foster care in South County they typically have to be put in foster care in North County,” said Bonnie Beedles, program manager at the Santa Barbara County Education Office and manager of transitional youth services for homeless and foster care. “So they are removed from everything familiar. They have to change school, leave all their friends. It’s pretty disorienting to be moved across the county.”

A lack of foster care homes in South County can complicate situations involving court-ordered services such as family therapy.

“When the kids are 70 miles away, it makes the whole thing tougher on everybody,” Beedles said.

The goal of the Buellton summit will be for participants and county officials to reach resolutions to these problems and implement a plan of action.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Beedles said. “We haven’t done this before in the county. It’s a great opportunity for anybody and everybody to collaborate on solutions. It’s about the community. Foster care is really our community responsibility.”

Register for the summit by contacting Cindy Chen at 415.865.7644, or by fax at 415.865.4399.

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