Race on to shore up overwhelmed foster care system; Rim Fire progress; Perez vows no more early releases

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todaysnewsbanner2Foster care. The head of L.A. County’s child welfare agency says his department was caught off-guard by the state’s threat to impose fines over problems in the foster care system.

County officials have faced a huge increase in the number of children entering protective care this summer. That’s led some children to be kept for extended periods in so-called “holding rooms,” where they wait until they are placed with foster families. The state says the county could face daily fines starting tomorrow for exceeding the 24-hour time limit for holding rooms.

Philip Browning, director of the Department of Children and Family Services, told KCRW’s Warren Olney that the county has been overwhelmed by cases involving very young children.

“In June of last year, we only had 104 children who were under the age of 11 come in. This June we had over 400,” Browning said.

The problem intensified after a high-profile child abuse case involving a Palmdale boy who was allegedly murdered by his mother and her boyfriend triggered a jump in abuse hotline calls.

Browning says a big drop in the number of foster care families has contributed to the problem.

“About five years ago, we had 2,000 state-licensed parents,” Browning said. “Today we have 540. Five years ago, we had 4,500 hundred homes through the agency concept. This year, this month, we have less than 3,000.”

Browning says the county was working with state officials to resolve the holding room problem even before fines were threatened. He says he’s hopeful the issue can be resolved without any penalties. Which Way, L.A.?, L.A. Times

Rim Fire. Firefighters have upped containment of the massive Rim Fire to 20 percent. The blaze continues to grow, though. It has charred about 280 square miles of mostly remote wilderness. But even as the fire moved deeper into the national park, there was palatable relief. Residents in Tuolumne City celebrated the successful defense of their small town. Fire officials also said they had steered the flames away from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the source of much of San Francisco’s drinking water and some of its power. Ash has been falling into the reservoir, but it has not reached intake valves 150 feet below the surface. Thousands of structures remain threatened by what Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott is calling the biggest wildfire on record in California’s Sierra Nevada. CNN

Prison plan. There’s less than three weeks to go before the state legislature wraps up its regular session for the year. But Democratic Assembly speaker John Perez says before lawmakers head home, they’ll vote on a plan that would ease overcrowding in state prisons. California has been ordered to reduce its inmate population in several federal court rulings. But Perez says that doesn’t mean that thousands of inmates will suddenly hit the streets. “We’re going to look at every housing opportunity that we have, consistent with the requirements of the courts. But we will not release a single additional prisoner,” Perez vowed. But finding more space for inmates could be expensive. Perez says the money will probably come from the state’s reserve and could cut into other programs California would like to fund. KXTV

Abortion access. The state Senate has approved a bill that would let non-physician medical professionals perform early-term abortions. It’s the last major legislative hurdle for the measure before going to the Governor’s desk. The bill’s author, Democratic Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson, says it provides access to important reproductive care for women who live in areas without many physicians. Republicans in the Legislature say the bill would create a class of substandard healthcare for women in medically underserved communities. Sacramento Bee

Biologics. The State of California is coming up with regulations for pharmaceuticals that aren’t even on the market yet. “Biologic drugs” use substances like cells, proteins, and antibodies. The patents on these drugs are beginning to expire, and a new class of generic, “bio-similar” drugs is expected to be available in the coming years. A bill that’s passed both the State Senate and the Assembly would require pharmacists to notify prescribing doctors whenever they substitute a less expensive bio-similar drug for a name brand biologic. Bloomberg