In Wake of Shelter Shakeup, Pilot Program Helps Older Foster Youth Find Stability

A fledgling pilot program aimed at helping older youth in foster care find and remain in stable homes is showing promise, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

In a presentation to the Commission for Children and Families today in downtown Los Angeles, Michael Ross, an administrator for transitional shelter care at DCFS, explained how the pilot’s case coordinators work closely with the Department of Mental Health to deliver services to older foster youth who experience frequent placement changes because of mental health or behavioral issues.

The pilot program was created under the direction of the Office of Child Protection and its leader, Michael Nash, and was informed by recommendations from Commission for Children and Families released in September of 2015.

Four transitional shelter care agencies began taking children and youth after they are first detained by the county when two “welcome centers” were shuttered earlier this year.

Back in February, Nash questioned how effective these new shelters would be.

“Are they equipped to give these kids any services and counseling in the interim? What kind of process are they setting up to get them out in a reasonable amount of time, and in a meaningful way?” he asked.

The pilot project may be the county’s answer to that question. Case coordinators stay with a youth for six months to year, Ross said, and they use some of that time to study what issues can trigger a youth and what interventions are most helpful – information that can be vital to a caregiver.

If a caregiver calls, wanting a teenager to be removed from their care or just needing help managing a situation, case coordinators are highly “responsive, available by phone immediately or on site within 24 hours to try to save that placement,” Ross said.

So far the pilot program has served 15 teens in foster care, some of whom have been victims of sex trafficking. The team is in the process of adding three more youth to its roster.

Transitional shelter care facilities are intended to provide 72 hours of care for children and youth, and prior to the launch of the pilot program in May, Ross said, the 15 participating youth were spending a combined 7,193 hours in transitional shelter care. But now that number is down to 2,014, with the majority of those hours attributed to two youth in particular.

One of the program’s strengths is its ability to be both flexible and reflective.

For example, Ross and the rest of the pilot team did not expect caregivers to just call in one day and say, “come get this kid,” without a case coordinator being alerted that something was wrong along the way. But sometimes they do, he said, so now the teams proactively reach out to caregivers on a daily basis to see how the youth is doing, which allows them to intervene early, before the caregiver is ready to throw up their hands.

Peyanka Armstrong, a social worker on DCFS’ accelerated placement team, shared a story about a 17-year-old in the program. The youth, whose name was not revealed, has been in foster care since 2011 and has been placed in every group home or foster home that was eligible to take her, including a relative and a family friend. She has been hospitalized 10 times, and now resides at one of the transitional shelter care facilities.

There have been three mental health teams that have rallied around this young woman, who has given her team members nicknames like Medea from the Tyler Perry movies, Tina Turner and Patti LaBelle.

“She sees us as being strong Black women and men,” Armstrong said.

The biggest barrier preventing the team from finding a good home for the teen is that she has a lot of needs.

“She can have a team of 30 and within a couple of days that whole team of 30 is completely exhausted,” Armstrong said.

The team realized the young woman had never been assessed by one of the county’s regional centers, which provide or coordinate services and supports for individuals with developmental disabilities.

The teen was approved for regional center services in September, and when she turns 18 next week will begin the process of moving to an adult facility or placement that can meet her needs, Armstrong said.

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Christie Renick
About Christie Renick 107 Articles
Tucson-based Southwest Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change. Follow @christiejrenick.

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