An October 2015 study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, highlights opportunities for Los Angeles County’s Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) to more effectively recruit and retain foster families.
The study’s findings are particularly timely as the county begins planning implementation of statewide reforms to the child welfare system.
Assembly Bill 403 (Stone), known as California’s Child Welfare Continuum of Care Reform (CCR), was signed by Governor Brown on October 11, 2015. The bill calls for sweeping changes to how and with whom foster children are placed.
Of particular note is the bill’s mandate to convert group homes into short-term residential treatment centers by January 1, 2017. A summary of the bill from Assemblymember Stone’s office explains that group homes will only be used to “provide short-term, specialized, and intensive treatment” in an effort to place more children in a family setting. These changes will likely result in the closure of many group homes and increased demand for foster families.
Los Angeles County, which is home to 21,000 foster children–roughly one-third of California’s foster care population–will face a particularly daunting challenge. The reduction of group homes under CCR will further compel an already overburdened DCFS to recruit and retain appropriate foster families.
UCLA’s study, “Resource Family Recruitment in Los Angeles County,” assesses the current system and suggests areas for improvement.
The role of recruiting, training and certifying foster and adoptive families, collectively referred to as resource families, falls on DCFS and Foster Family Agencies (FFAs). FFAs are nonprofit organizations contracted by DCFS to recruit resource families, train them, certify them as fit to care for a child and support them once a child is placed in their care. Simply, DCFS and FFAs play a similar and parallel role in the recruitment and retention of resource families.
UCLA’s study makes apparent, however, a concerning lack of coordination between DCFS and the FFAs. This lack of coordination leads to operational inefficiencies and confusion for potential resource families.
“At each point along the resource parent recruitment path, FFA and DCFS staff identified and richly described the challenges and limitations of the dual foster care recruitment system,” the study reads. “Available data regarding the outcomes of these dual pathways largely support the notion that this approach has deleterious consequences for agencies, families, and children.”
In order to combat this issue, the study recommends more information sharing among agencies and adopting high quality resource family training standards across all of the agencies.
In addition to coordination, the study also points to customer service and messaging as opportunities for improvement.
Throughout the study, DCFS and FFA staff emphasize that the most effective recruitment practices are those that are more personal in nature. They cite follow-up phone calls and application assistance as more effective than less personal approaches like large recruitment events. Nevertheless, staff time is not sufficiently devoted to building personal connections with families.
In addition to personal interaction, the study recommends “establish[ing] a single point of contact for potential foster families.” Creating a single phone number or website used by all agencies would allow for more consistent messaging to potential resource families and greater clarity about the recruitment process.
Internally, the agencies would also benefit from improved data collection practices.
According to the report, “Opportunities abound to better use data to identify and drive resource family recruitment system improvements.” Better data tracking across agencies not only would allow DCFS to determine which recruitment practices are most effective, but also to better assess how children are faring once they are placed with a family.
Improving agency coordination, customer service and data collection will not be easy. But it will be crucial for DCFS and FFAs to implement all of these recommendations if they hope to increase resource family recruitment to fulfill the demands of CCR and meet the needs of foster children in Los Angeles.
Access the full report here.
Lauren Johnson is a candidate for a Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management degree at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. She wrote this article while taking the school’s Media for Policy Change course.