Approximately 1,857 children are in Kern County’s foster care system living in out-of- home care, according to the Department of Human Services. As the supervising judge of the Kern County Superior Court’s Juvenile Division, along with judges Raymonda Marquez and William Palmer, I can tell you that these children come into our courtrooms due to no fault of their own. They come because they have suffered neglect or abuse at the hands of their parents. They range from newborn to over 17 years of age.
As the judges presiding over the decisions in these dependency hearings, it is our responsibility to, when necessary, declare these children dependents, subject to removal from their parents, and place them into temporary care. For their parents, it means ordering that they take the steps necessary to ensure that their children can come safely home.
For the children it means the additional trauma of being separated from their families during this time and the daily desire to go home. Reunification with their parents is the primary goal for us as judges, for the Department of Human Services, and for the many partners it takes to make reunification possible. My message today, and every day, for those families is simple – reunification with your child is attainable.
I understand that when a family first comes into the Dependency Court, it can be overwhelming, confusing and certainly intimidating. Parents are at risk of losing their children. But I assure you that the California Legislature has established a process for returning these children to their parents as soon as possible. Attorneys, social workers, counselors and therapists all work together to achieve that goal, when possible. The court wants to ensure that every opportunity has been presented to the birth family to overcome the situations that brought their family into the courtroom and their children into dependency.
We know that reunification is possible, and that this process does work, because on Friday, June 24, the Department of Human Services will partner with us, Probation, CASA and other partners to celebrate Reunification Day in Kern County.
We will celebrate and honor families who have successfully reunified with their children, as a result of their diligent efforts to create a wholesome, safe and loving home environment for the well-being of their children. This day will honor parents who have successfully navigated the Dependency Court system, in collaboration with the Department of Human Services, and with the support of Social Workers, relatives, extended family members, foster parents, community partners, counselors, mentors and advocates, to emerge as healthier, stronger, and intact families.
Family Reunification Day celebrates those families that have overcome severe obstacles to ensure that their children’s safety is their number one priority. Safe family reunification is the primary goal of Dependency Court, which accomplishes this by reuniting hundreds of children each year with their families, including 220 children last year.
Please join me in celebrating this success!
Louie Vega is the supervising judge of the Kern County Superior Court’s Juvenile Division.