Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #1: Reducing Frequency of Foster Care Placements

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C. Today we highlight the recommendation of Alexis Arambul, a senior at Washington State University.

The Proposal

Arambul makes three proposals aimed at increasing the likelihood that a youth’s first foster care placement is his or her last placement:

  1. Development of a “child-focused recruitment model” for foster care placement that would “focus on identifying quality caregivers interested in providing for the emotional, physical, and psychological needs of the youth.” Ultimately, states should be required to use this model.
  2. Clarification of the safety standards that cannot be waived for relatives under the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act.
  3. Collection of quantitative data from states that are currently using technological services to match children.

The Argument

The child welfare system continues to gravitate toward a larger reliance on relatives to care for children who are removed from their home. Arambul does not question this trend directly, but argues that the prospect of stability is more important than the presence of kin. Says Arambul:

“Multiple foster placements can have physical effects on a foster youth. Some of the most damaging of these includes mental and emotional instability, the continuity of high-stress environments, and having to constantly refamiliarize yourself is emotionally demanding. The UC Davis Center for Human Services states, “It was found that multiple placements increased the probability of high mental health service use.”

This, she contends, can be addressed in part by requiring systems to tailor placement decisions to the individual youth.

Alexis Arambul, a student at Washington State University

“There is a tendency in the U.S. foster care system to view all foster youth as the same,” Arambul writes. “To place children into homes with inadequate knowledge about their special circumstances and needs is doing a disservice to those children.”

In Her Own Words

“The relief I felt when I was first removed from my great aunt’s care was short lived and quickly followed by a haze of confusion and disappointment for the next three years. I bounced around to three unstable foster care placements and attended five different high schools. I was still a senior in high school when I was kicked out of my last foster home and it was just two weeks after my eighteenth birthday, leaving me homeless for the next five months before I started college. This was the most turbulent time in my life.

Although each of my foster care placements were with family members, the foster care system failed by placing me with kin that were a product of the same unsafe environment I had grown up in.”

The Chronicle‘s Take

Placement stability remains a critical challenge for child welfare systems. More often than not, you hear about a greater reliance on kin as a way to prevent youth from bouncing around stranger care. Fostering Connections, passed in 2008, made it easier for states to waive certain foster care licensing standards when it came to kin.

Arambul offers an important reminder that this is not a strategy that should be embraced at all costs. She recounts an adolescence spent in the homes of relatives who did not do right by her. And had the decision-making process been more tailored to her, it might have gone differently.

Her proposal to develop a model for recruiting quality caregivers is a great one, and timely as the Annie E. Casey Foundation and others begin a national campaign to convince states to improve the quality of foster care.

Arambul references The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption as an example. The foundation’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK) program helps systems hire and train specialized caseworkers to improve recruitment of adoptive parents for older youth.

The foundation has its hands full rolling out a massive national expansion of WWK in the adoption arena. But why couldn’t the Department of Health and Human Services develop a pilot program to test whether the WWK approach could be applied to foster homes as well?

We learn something valuable in pretty much every FYI proposal. Arambul highlights Every Child a Priority (ECAP), a system developed by Foster Care Technologies, which has been evaluated by the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare and is apparently associated with better placement stability and shorter stays in care.

The federal government is a major partner in foster care for each state through the Title IV-E entitlement. It is completely appropriate that they aggregate and disseminate information on technological supports like ECAP and what impact they have had.

It is unlikely that Congress would ever mandate state adherence to a set model for recruitment or placement decision-making. But pilot testing and research might lead one day to a more permanent incentive for states that wanted to improve their approach.

Click here to read the full report, including all of the FYI proposals.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 924 Articles
John Kelly is senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.

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