National Newswire

Coming Together for
Washington's Children

Parents and providers discuss child welfare reform in the state

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The Children's Home Society of Washington (CHS), a CWLA member agency, recently brought together child welfare providers, parents, and community partners to discuss the implications of a new state law.

In 2009, the state legislature passed House Bill 2106, which requires the Department of Social and Health Services to consolidate and convert approximately 1,500 current contracts for child welfare services by July 1, 2011. The act established the Transformation Design Committee, a group of child welfare leaders in the state charged with the task of developing a transition plan.

Staff of child welfare providers and parents from Region 4 gathered to discuss reform at a meeting organized by the Children's Home Society of Washington

The act acknowledges that the safety and well-being of children and families are essential to the social and economic health of Washington, and it also changes the way services for children are contracted, measured, and evaluated. All contracts will now be converted to performance-based contracts, which are based on outcomes. This means that there is greater accountability to each child and family on the part of every professional involved in child welfare service delivery.

CHS asked providers, parents, and others from state Region 3 (Whatcom, Island, Skagit, San Juan, and Snohomish counties) and Region 4 (King County) to explore House Bill 2106's impact on their specific communities.

The December 10 meeting, held at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle, brought together more than 100 social service agencies, parents, and friends for a lively conversation titled "World Cafe Conversations on Child Welfare Reform." The objectives were simple: Develop a shared understanding of HB 2106 and the current implications and opportunities for collaboration at the regional level, and begin to develop a shared vision among a diverse group of stakeholders of a draft integrated service structure.

The event began with an introduction from Sharon Osborne, President/CEO of CHS, who spoke about the agency's commitment to the work, as well as the exciting opportunity to come together and "think transformatively" for children. Attendees embarked on a series of small group World Cafes, where they carried on meaningful and intimate conversations on a variety of topics broken out by service (such as foster care, education, and independent living). They answered questions on what is currently working and what isn't working within the existing child welfare system. Participants shared their responses during group "popcorn sharing." The conversations tended to focus on positive topics because, as the facilitator Nalani Linder stated, "We all know what's not working."

Another World Cafe session in the afternoon focused on identifying existing and not-yet-existing but possible linkages between services such as chemical dependency, economic development, mental health, and housing. A common theme that arose from this conversation centered around the need for child welfare providers to create stronger relationships with the types of community resources (housing, legal services, etc.) that do not fall in the "basic services" category and are therefore not a function of the child welfare system. These linkages are critical to the long-term success of a family and need to be incorporated, at the beginning, into the assessment given by the social worker.

At the retreat on December 13 at the Skagit County PUD building, many themes were the same. One major difference, however, was that historically, there have not been as many opportunities for Region 3 to come together as partners in supporting children and families due simply to geographical barriers. The meeting provided a unique opportunity for agencies in the Region 3 counties to discuss systematic changes and creative ways to address the needs of families.

Additionally, much focus was given to more service delivery in the home. When it is safe for the child, working with the family and child in the home instead of removing the child is often the better, least disruptive option. Other themes around delivering services differently included involving fathers more, offering case management for families after the children are removed, using technology to alleviate geographic barriers, increasing understanding of cultural values, discontinuing the "one size fits all" approach, and creating customized plans for each family.

Collaboration has been key to conversations between the state, child welfare providers, parents, and the community. This will continue to be so throughout the State of Washington's decisionmaking process to determine which private agencies will take on master-contracting and subcontracting roles in all regions around the state. By partnering with others, agencies create a wraparound community-based service delivery that helps meet the needs of children and families through consistent and uninterrupted service. The end goal, of course, is to move them out of the system or prevent them from arriving there in the first place.

Kelly Bray is the marketing communications manager at the Children's Home Society of Washington, a CWLA member agency.

California

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina has joined the LA County Department of Children and Family Services, a CWLA member agency, in a program to help ensure foster youth graduate high school. The Foster Youth Education Program, which began in 2008, has had encouraging results in five school districts where it's been in place--75% of the students in the program graduated and 80% of those students went on to four-year colleges. Nationally, numbers vary, but generally less than half of foster youth will graduate high school. One of the challenges this program tackles is transferring credits from one school to another.

Indiana

A year after she took on the new position of ombudsman for Indiana's Department of Child Services (DCS), a CWLA member agency, Susan Hoppe issued a report describing the more than 160 cases she handled in 2010. According to an article in The Indianapolis Star, Hoppe opened 25 formal investigations and gave thorough reviews to 78 other complaints. Of these, 20 cases had merit and prompted 22 case-specific and 15 general recommendations for DCS. "The working relationship with DCS has been very positive," Hoppe told the Star, "and they have been very responsive to my recommendations-- both the local offices and central office."

Rhode Island

Two children's shelters that the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) had planned to close to compensate for budget cuts will now stay open at least through the duration of their current contracts, which last until June 30. According to a press release, the two emergency shelters--Washington Park Children's Shelter, Providence, and the Children's Shelter of Blackstone Valley, Pawtucket--house more than 200 children from birth to age 12 annually before the children are returned home or placed with foster families. DCYF will determine if there are enough foster homes to provide equivalent services for children who would normally go to the shelters.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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