It's not a perfect score, but Merced County's mental health department took top billing in a recent analysis of California counties' handling of older foster children.
The study, conducted by The Children's Advocacy Institute, gave Merced a "B" for its work to provide mental health services to "transitional age foster youth," or state wards who are near emancipation, or recently aged out of the foster care program.
It was the only "B" doled out. There were no "A" scores anywhere in California. Four counties earned a "C," seven got a "D," and 26 counties earned a failing grade. (Twenty counties were too small for a fair assessment.)
The group's goal is to advocate for greater services to former foster youth through their late teens and early 20s.
"These kids have been through unimaginable ordeals, including physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse, neglect, plus the added trauma of being uprooted from family, home, friends -- everything familiar to them," said the institute's director Robert C. Fellmeth, who is also a law professor at University of San Diego School of Law.
Five hundred Merced County children are removed from their homes each year and placed in foster care or group homes.
The report focused on how well Merced provided mental health services to current or former foster children aged 16 to 25 years old.
Manuel Jimenez, director of the Merced County Department of Mental Health, highlighted the county's "B" score at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting.
"I think it's great. We're happy," Jimenez said Thursday. "This is recognizing what we do."
The Children's Advocacy Institute analyzed how each California county spent money from Proposition 63 funding. That ballot measure levied a tax on millionaires to create new mental health programs for the state's most vulnerable residents. (The act allows counties to choose how to spend Prop. 63 funding, but the institute argues that the State Department of Mental Health should force funding for young former foster youth, given their significant need.)
According to the analysis, Merced County provided services to transition age foster youth through four primary programs. One of them, called the "CUBE" program, is a wellness center located on East 13th Street. Each weekday, the center is an open house from 1 to 5 p.m. Youth can come to the building for counseling, games, socialization and even cooking classes.
Other programs targeted specifically to current and former foster children include substance abuse counseling, transportation, housing assistance and job preparation.
Merced County is home to about 0.7 percent of the state's former foster youth aged 18 to 25.
Nearby Stanislaus, Madera and Fresno counties all received failing scores. Mariposa County was not graded, given the low population of foster children there.
Reporter Danielle E. Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.