But now the state is warning that they're staying too long and is threatening to fine DCFS until all kids taken into protective custody are placed in foster care within 24 hours.
"I would rather have a kid stay there for 26 hours if we're able to place that kid with their relative, rather than placing that kid in a foster home," said Philip Browning, director of DCFS.
Browning says it's a question of demand. There aren't enough foster families for an increasing number of kids coming into the system. And DCFS is getting thousands more calls since the media attention surrounding the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who was allegedly beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend while he was supposed to be under the care of social workers.
"In 2007, we had about 6,500 foster parents who were able to provide services for our children. Today, we only have about 3,500," said Browning.
The California Department of Social Services has already issued two citations this year for overstays and for operating an unlicensed community care facility.
"We need foster homes. We need foster care placements, and we've seen a shrinking of that," said Maricruz Trevino, assistant regional administrator of DCFS.
Browning says DCFS is working to improve the database system, as well as working legislation to expedite background checks of family members so children can be released to the care of relatives.
Michael Weston, a California Department of Social Services spokesperson, says the state agency is now meeting weekly with DCFS to work on improvements.
"While the Department understands the complexities and challenges facing DCFS, the practice of 'overstays' must be addressed on a system wide basis to ensure children are receiving proper care and supervision," Weston said in a statement.