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There has been a slow, decade-long movement in the child welfare system to move away from congregate care. The emerging “delivery system” for children in custody of the state includes an increase in the use of foster homes, a significant reduction in the number of group homes and other non-family-based residential settings, and an increase in kinship care — all with the ultimate goal of family reunification (see California Launching “Continuum Of Care” Reform Initiative For Foster Care, 27% Of Children In Foster Care In Kinship Placements, and Oregon Child Welfare To Pilot Two Foster Care Models, One Urban & One Rural).

Judy Webber

This shift was the focus of a great panel discussion at The 2016 OPEN MINDS California Management Best Practices Institute, The Changing Landscape Of Children’s Services In California: The Challenges & Opportunities Presented By Katie A. & The Continuum Of Care Reform. The session featured panelist perspectives from Richard S. Knecht, MS, transformation manager, Department of Social Services, California Department of Healthcare Services; Judy Webber, LCSW, deputy director, Department of Children & Family Services, County of Ventura; and Briana Duffy, MBA, LSW, senior vice president, National Client Partnerships, Beacon Health Options.

Richard S. Knecht

My takeaway from the panel: achieving the goals of family home permanency and access to behavioral health services are easier said than done. While the overall objective is to minimize the use of congregate care, the challenge remains to find enough homes for foster children, especially for those over the age of nine. And even when found, there are delays in licensing the homes due to shortages in training and qualified staff. The ultimate goal of family reunification presents challenges as well, as often both the child and the family need behavioral health services before reunification can proceed.

Potential solutions to address the shortcomings in the child welfare system include:

  1. Increased pay for mental health workers: Finding enough licensed clinicians for mental health treatment in child welfare provider organizations, especially in rural areas, has proven difficult. Increased salaries can offer a solution for attracting additional “talent” (see The Staffing Issue – Enough or Not?).
  2. Increased telehealth: Where additional salaries fail to increase the availability of licensed professionals, the introduction of telehealth solutions can bridge the gap (see 90% Of Nation’s Large Employers Offer Telehealth As A Benefit).
  3. Increased geo-mapping: The identification of “hot spots” of need in certain regional areas will allow organizations to concentrate services and resources in those areas (see Making “Hot Spotting” Work In Your Organization).
  4. Increased education: Counties can also address clinician shortages by working with local higher education programs to graduate more people with the necessary degrees.
  5. Increased behavioral health services for parents: Increased services for parents can lead to permanent family reunification. Currently, these services are not always well-coordinated across program lines between the needs of the children and those of the parents.
  6. Build relationships with other county agencies: Building collaborative efforts between public health, mental health, and juvenile court systems can provide greater care coordination, and appeal to the common values and beliefs of the partner organizations (see Meta-Leadership – A New & Tall Order).

I expect those changes, coupled with a push towards a more integrated approach to mental health and substance-use-disorder services for all children and their families who need it, to expand nation-wide. For more on the developments affecting the child welfare system, check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:

  1. The Future Of Child Welfare Services – What The Thoughtleaders Think
  2. Child Welfare’s Moving Target – Towards Community-Based Care
  3. Shifting Preferences In Child Welfare Services – Challenges Ahead For Funders & Provider Organizations
  4. How Are We Spending Child Welfare Dollars?
  5. Child Welfare Services – How Much Are We Spending?

Also join OPEN MINDS senior associate Howard Shiffman on January 25, 2017 at 2:00 p.m. (EST) when he will deliver the case study-oriented web briefing, Forecast The Future With Predictive Analytics To Improve Your Child Welfare Outcomes: A Case Study.


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