A nonprofit organization that had previously cared for foster youth will be switching gears and using its residential campus to house and help mothers with young children who are in need, officials with the organization announced during a community meeting at Rancho Community Church Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Rancho Damacitas Children & Family Services, a nonprofit that operates a residential campus in Temecula Valley Wine Country, had previously used that campus to house and care for foster children since its inception 35 years ago, but organization officials cited legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown as the reason the organization could not continue to provide care for foster youth.
Assembly Bill 403, signed into law by Brown in October 2015, tries to increase the number of children in foster families and reduce the number of children in long-term residential facilities through regular assessments of child needs. For children who are not ready to be placed, a stay at a residential facility is intended to be short term only.
Julie Ngo, chair of the Rancho Damacitas Board of Directors, said the nonprofit tried to adapt to the state’s overhaul, but was unsuccessful.
“After 35 years of changing lives and providing them with a fighting chance in the world, Rancho Damacitas finds itself handcuffed by this Continuum of Care Act,” Ngo said. “Suddenly the state was placing youth with Rancho Damacitas that weren’t a fit for our program, a program that we had known for 35 years and that we can argue tried to change.”
Ngo said that recently Rancho Damacitas informed the county that it was discontinuing its youth residential program and said social workers have picked up the children who were staying at the Wine Country campus to transfer them to a different care arrangement.
Asked whether the youth were committing crimes and whether that played a role in the decision to discontinue the youth residential program, Rancho Damacitas CEO Cal Winslow said that was part of it.
“We, for the last few months, have been struggling with the difficulty of the young people who were coming into our care,” Winslow said. “They were not responsive, they were more than not responsive. They made it very difficult for us to work with them.”
Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Bruce W. Smith told the audience that crime in Temecula and the unincorporated communities had been very low, but he noted that there had been a recent uptick in crime activity in Wine Country, some of which had to do with Rancho Damacitas, and some of which did not.
“Statistically it’s true,” Smith said. “They were part of that spike, but that issue did not exist for many years. I’ve heard a number of people say that for the decades they resided here they had seen nothing, they felt safe and then something happened. Things changed. Well things have changed again. Steps have been taken to rectify the issue.”
Details were limited about Rancho Damacitas’ new focus of helping women with young children. Winslow said many details were still being worked out.
He said the organization would seek to help women who were over 18 and that the organization was looking to accept its first family possibly in January 2018. It would provide the women with a place to live and support services they might need.
Another program under the Rancho Damacitas umbrella, Project Independence, was expected to continue. That program helps adults from a foster care background with such things as transitional housing, employment readiness, mentoring and financial management.
Read more about Rancho Damacitas’ transition in the Nov. 17 edition of Valley News.