Modernizing Foster Care

Family life has changed significantly. To continue to provide personal in-home care for children, foster care must change as well. We need to do more than tinker with an outdated system. For solutions, we must think beyond yesterday’s box.

The shortage of foster families will continue to increase. Previous blogs have discussed ways to lessen the need for temporary homes by preventing unnecessary removals and by hastening the time to a permanent home through reunification or adoption. In addition, foster parents should be more adequately compensated.

Today’s business world offers many non-traditional examples of successful start-ups. New service enterprises have taken advantage of the way technology stores, processes, and shares information to streamline their businesses. What might the foster care system glean and adapt from some of these innovations?

Take UBER as an example of similar business breakthroughs. UBER is not just another taxi service, but an entirely new model, using technology to directly connect drivers and clients. Quality is monitored by an immediate digital request for customer satisfaction. Despite preliminary warnings, the idea has been successful, with growing customer satisfaction.

How might a similar model work for foster care? Clearly there are major differences. Foster children need a home, not a brief service. The involvement of biological parents, foster parents, case manager, agency, courts, CASA, and more make foster parenting more complicated than selecting transportation. Nevertheless, here are five innovative ideas gleaned from the UBER approach that might benefit the foster care system.

Maximize income for the basic service provider. Compensate foster parents adequately for the hard and valuable work they contribute. Use technology to reduce administrative costs. Effective enterprises today have jumped at the chance to use digital know-how to modernize their operations. These two changes have been discussed in a previous blog.

Control quality through a feedback system. As is done regularly by companies like UBER and Amazon, invite caseworkers, birth parents, and foster parents to assess one another weekly. Each player might be offered the opportunity to rate and comment on the other two. Birth parents and foster parents would thereby gain a voice which hopefully would encourage better service and help reduce the current diet of allegations and complaints. The caseworker would be kept abreast of the situation, and permanence might be achieved more quickly. Failure to participate in a feedback system would be documented in the case record and convey its own message of lack of cooperation.

Consider a horizontal model. In the present system, foster parents occupy the bottom rung of a vertical, hierarchical structure. Although they do the “heavy lifting,” foster parents have little voice in important decisions and are grossly under-compensated. Make them full members of the team. Elevate foster parents to the level of the other major players. As with the driver and passenger in UBER, think of the foster parents and birth parent(s) as a ground-level team.

Promote a team approach. Involve the birth parent from the beginning. Ask her to suggest relatives who might help. Describe potential foster families and seek her input in the selection of where her child might be placed. Work with her to plan the time, place, and conditions of visitation. Would she like to bring a friend or relative with her to meetings?

A wise use of feedback would extend beyond mutual evaluation. By sharing concerns, birth and foster parents might better understand one another. Foster parents might slip into the role of mentors. Not all ideas will work.  But if a team can be built, the real beneficiary will be the child.

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Jim Kenny
About Jim Kenny 36 Articles
Jim Kenny is a retired psychologist with over 50 years of clinical experience. The author of 13 books on family and child care, Dr. Kenny’s recent books are Attachment and Bonding in the Foster and Adopted Child and What Foster Parents Need to Know.