OAKLAND (KCBS) – Their parents are killed or arrested for drugs or domestic violence. Suddenly, young children find themselves thrown into California’s foster care system, which often has less than a day to find them somewhere to live.

Each county has a receiving home, where children stay while awaiting placement. In San Francisco, foster kids refer to the center as “the dungeon.” Human Resources Agency Executive Director Trent Rhorer said they are looking for a better facility.

KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:

“I wouldn’t characterize it as a dungeon. Certainly, the physical space is not what I would call ideal,” he said.

Carol Graham, who runs a foster home in Newark, said she’s ready to take a new child when she has the room.

Complete Coverage: Doug Sovern’s Children Left Behind Series

“Those poor placement people have 23 hours to find that kid a bed. It’s really hard to do,” Graham said.

Less than a day to find the right home said John Casey, program director at Covenant House California in Oakland.

“You have kids that need to be placed. The clock is ticking,” said Casey. “It really is a Russian roulette of services.”

Some counties even stash kids at juvenile hall or a county mental hospital if they can’t find a foster home.

“If I’m a 13-year-old kid, it’s a luck of the draw. Where the opening is and where I end up,” said Casey.

16-year-old Sierra knows all too well as she has been living those odds since entering foster care as an infant.

“A day isn’t a whole lot of time to think of where you might end up,” she said. “It’s like one big gamble. It’s like throwing dice. You might get good and you might get bad.”

Unfortunately, Casey said too many foster families are just in it for their monthly government check.

“You have some great foster parents out there and they are specially trained to take emergency foster youth,” he said. “But, there are also some agencies and foster parents who are not doing this for the best reasons.”

Brejon Fontenot has been placed in too many of those homes.

“When you’re in a foster home, from my experience, it’s like they only take you in because of the check they get,” she said. “The love isn’t real. They don’t really support you as well as they make it seem, like on TV or in commercials.”

Shonda Rush, a residential advisor at Covenant House, said when kids act out or run away, they’re tagged as trouble, a label that can haunt them for years.

“What happens is the kid is blamed for having inappropriate behavior,” he said. “Instead of them looking that the placement was inappropriate.”

Tessa has survived 16 years of foster care, adoption and abuse, living in so many places that she’s lost count.

“Some foster parents really do care about the kids because I’ve seen it,” she said. “But there’s a lot out there that they just don’t care. My last foster home was like that.”

But Tessa’s new home seems to be working out. KCBS will take you there in Part 3 of our weeklong series on foster care on Wednesday.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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