Daily Update September 19, 2016
Oregon Child Welfare System Facing Acute Shortage Of Foster Homes

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September 12, 2016

The Next Generation Forum On Children's Services

Market intelligence, management strategies, and executive networking needed to develop the children’s services of the future.

Oregon Child Welfare System Facing Acute Shortage Of Foster Homes

Hello Members of The Next Generation Forum On Children's Services,
With the reduction of congregate care in our country, the pressure to find a community foster home program for a child in need of being removed from his family has dramatically increased. In addition, the issue of safety in foster homes continues to be a challenge for departments of human services. I recently reviewed an article, "OregonChild Welfare System Facing Acute Shortage Of Foster Homes," published by OPEN MINDS that is an excellent illustration of how this pressure is affecting states such asOregon.

An independent review of Oregon’s foster care system found that the state has an on-going shortage of appropriate foster homes and programs. Due to the shortage, the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) has not been able to place children promptly with foster parents that are able to meet their needs. Further, substantiated cases of abuse of children and youth under the care of DHS have been escalating.

According to OR KIDS data, cases had dropped from 69 in 2013 to 63 in 2014, and rose to 85 substantiated cases in 2015. Children in a DHS certified foster home are six times more likely to be abused than children placed in a foster home contracted through a child care agency (CCA).

In 2012, the difference was 46 cases of substantiated abuse in a DHS foster home versus 9 cases in CCA homes. In 2013, the difference was 38 to 7. In 2014, the difference was 36 to 5. In 2015, the difference was 50 to 5. These findings were reported in “Oregon Child Safety in Substitute Care Independent Review Comprehensive Assessment – Draft Findings.” The report was and commissioned by the Oregon DHS and written by Public Knowledge LLC. The purpose of this report is to provide the members of the DHS External Advisory Committee with early findings and analysis. The final report will be submitted during September 2016.

The researchers reviewed data from Oregon’s statewide automated child welfare information system (SACWIS). They noted that the state has a “disjointed data enterprise” for tracking information about youth maltreatment in foster care. The current data system lacks advanced capabilities for information sharing and does not allow for trend identification. Further, it has limited quality assurance monitoring capabilities, and lacks an accountability system to ensure accurate safety determinations. Several separate data systems that are not interfaced and are of varying maturity levels are used across the system. The researchers identified the following factors affecting the state’s foster care system:
  • A greater range and quantity of appropriate placements could prevent abuse of children and youth in foster care. Currently, space availability drives placement decisions, rather than the needs of foster children and youth. The state’s placement capacity for high-needs children and youth is shrinking. Urgency to find placements compromises certification and licensing standards. Foster parents are not adequately trained or supported to safely care for children and youth with high needs.
  • A coordinated response to abuse in foster care could lead to earlier intervention and prevention of future abuse. The state currently has two definitions for abuse in care and does not handle incident reports differently from abuse allegations. The current abuse in care reporting, screening, and investigation process is localized. The current system of abuse in care reporting is rated untrustworthy by youth and other reporters. There is little to no follow-up on abuse in care investigations. Information that could mitigate safety concerns is not efficiently shared between entities.
  • Inadequate staffing and high workloads across agencies have negatively affected timeliness in case resolution, regular face-to-face time with children, and quality safety monitoring. Caseloads for DHS workers are so high that child welfare workers are not making the required monthly contact with children.

My Thoughts

I recently read an article in the Chronicle of Social Change that I found fascinating and very informative titled, "The Evolution of Foster Parent Recruitment and Training." The data for this article was obtained through the National Foster Parent Association and the Child Welfare League of America. The article gives us a brief but solid foundation of how the foster care system in our country was created and has emerged. It informs us of the evolution of the kind of families being recruited to be foster parents and the expectations the “system” had for the role of the foster parent. This history reveals that the function of a foster home has truly been refined throughout the past 150 years since its inception. When foster care was first developed, the Children’s Aid Society and the Orphan Train movement sent hundreds of thousands of orphan children to live with families in the growing Midwest. Homes were recruited that had adequate space, food, and water, and the home study was conduct by local officials. This article states, “Recruiting foster families has always been a challenge because of the lack of clarity around what role foster parents are expected to fill. Are they more like clients of a child welfare agency, wanting to fill the empty nest once their birth children left home? Or perhaps they want a companion for an only child? Or maybe an infertile couple wants to try out fostering before committing to adoption?”

In the early years of the foster care history, “simple contracts of indenture” for families selecting a child from the 19th century orphan trains have progressed to a complex body of child welfare law. We learn from this history that before the 1980s, foster parents had to sign documents indicating that they would not attempt to adopt the children in their care. Today, foster parents are asked for a commitment to adoption, if family reunification is not possible, even as the agency is working with birth parents toward reunification (known as concurrent planning).

In the present child welfare system, we expect a majority of our foster parents to become significantly trained and able to deal with traumatized children that have a full array of behavioral, psychological, and health related issues. We see foster parents as part of our child welfare team. Their role has truly grown into a category that we may call “professional.”

In order to understand why States are struggling with recruitment and retention of foster parents and why safety concerns are still a paramount issue for departments of human services, we must look at and rectify the struggles these departments face including:
  • Inadequate funding
  • Lack of trained social workers
  • Poor retention of quality personnel
  • Overcrowded caseloads
  • Children with needs that are more complex
We must also face the debate of offering salaries for foster parents in addition to “child financial support for room, board, clothing etc. Looking at the history of our expectations for quality foster parents and therapeutic home environments coupled with what we know about the inadequate human service resources and their resulting issues, it is not difficult for us to understand why states like Oregon are struggling in this arena. This is a complex multifaceted problem.

The OPEN MINDS article about Oregon also brings up an issue that we must face in regard to the private sector having better safety outcomes than the public system. This issue requires our industry to make an analysis of the factors that lead to this result. Questions about the abilities of the private sector to achieve positive outcomes versus public systems is not a new conversation, and it is time for a deeper look that can offer us answers.

We have come a long way since the orphan train movement and our expectations and outcomes have positively changed toward a model of professionalism. With this change in quality standards come many challenges. I am hopeful that the present emerging problems will motivate us to continue building the history of this foster home movement and bring with it the needed progress. Let me know what you think about these issues, and I will share your thoughts with our membership.

And don't forget to register for our upcoming executive web briefing exclusively for members of The Next Generation Forum On Children's Services! This month's web briefing, "Expanding Innovative Programs & Essential Social Services With Child-Centered Social Impact Bond Funding: The Institute for Child Success Case Study," will be held on September 28 at 2:00pm ET and will feature two speakers from the Institute for Child Success. Join us to learn how to access social impact funding – and how the Institute For Child Success made that happen.

Have a great week!

Howard Shiffman
Senior Associate

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The Georgia Conference on Children and Families  - November 2-4, 2016