Having (a) required reporting of suspected neglect/abuse in the 1960’s, (b) created a therapeutic environment in foster homes in the 1980’s in order to accommodate the overpopulation of children placed in institutional care during the 1970’s, (c) required measures to reduce risk to children, accelerate permanence for children, and increase accountability for caretakers in the 1990’s, the first decade of the new millennium ushered in an increase in privatization of the child welfare system in order to promote competition and efficiency.
In this current decade, in order to meet the increasing demands for quality, the evidence-based modes of treatment, utilized previously, have begun to evolve into an emphasis on healing children through trauma-informed care. In this mode of treatment an attempt to address children’s emotional and behavioral issues is made through healing relationships, because the damage was done through broken relationships. Just a few of the changes in the way this new perspective manifests includes:
In the current environment of social work, compliance with regulatory standards is truly a minimum requirement; no longer is providing services while simply adhering to licensing and legal standards sufficient. Additional indicators of an organization’s ability to provide effective services for children removed from their homes now include such outputs and outcomes as:
Foster care should be viewed as “emergency” or “respite” care, pending permanence—a place where children can be protected and nurtured, either while their families are recovering so that the children can return home, or while an alternative “forever” family can be secured—as soon as possible.
Moving forward, the successful child welfare agencies will compete, in collaboration with other agencies, balancing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Many states have or are privatizing the care and treatment of children by, in some form or fashion, contracting with “lead” agencies, who then subcontract with other providers toward the end of providing the full spectrum of services required to achieve the above-mentioned outputs and outcomes. Those agencies that are willing to share resources, (e.g., pooled foster family recruiting and training), and commit to continuous improvement and achievement of identified outcomes will thrive, especially if the services they provide fill a critical niche, e.g., mental or physical disabilities, primary medical needs, sexual offenders, teenage mothers, etc. The successful agency will view itself as a “river,” not a “pond,” i.e., children come into the system and leave the system rapidly; not come, stay, and stagnate.
In an environment with an emphasis on efficiency of services for achievement of identified outcomes, more resources will aim at prevention, accountability will increase, support during out-of-home care will increase, and support after permanency is achieved will increase. In essence, fewer children will be placed in out-of-home care, fewer children will remain in out-of-home care, and recidivism (return to care) will decrease. Foster families will become more skilled and acquire a “resource family” persona or be more likely to foster to adopt or be a kinship family. Agencies will enhance their screening processes for foster family applicants and their assessment processes for children in order to match children better with the best fit families and ensure higher quality and safety for the care of children.
As fewer children will be in placement at any given time, higher supervision ratios will produce higher quality care, so long as advocacy efforts prevent the public and governmental authorities from assuming that the more efficient outcomes are cost neutral, or God forbid, cost less. The competitive agency will need to provide outcomes of value at a competitive cost and publicize those results in order to counteract any possible negative press, if at all possible.