Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Working towards fixing a broken system of care...

I am copying a letter I wrote today to a couple of folks at our local Community Based Care partner to attempt to resolve some persistent issues in one region of our state. This is an issue I've had first hand experience with from this particular county and have actually worked with the individuals I sent my letter to before trying to address some of the things we thought needed tweaking to help better serve the kids who come into care. This is the kind of action I think all foster parents should be prepared to take when it comes to the kids they're entrusted with.

Dear So-and-So,

I'm writing to you because I have gotten another series of questions this week from three different foster families who have kids placed with them from Bay, and I'm not really sure how to advise these parents going forward. The theme of the last few days has been:

I have kids from Bay county and I'm not getting copies of JRs or Case Plans or any other documents that should be included with the kids' files. When I've asked for them I've been told I'm not allowed to have any of this information.

I've had kids placed with me from Bay who have been with me for over two years and the DCM still is not willing to work towards filing TPR even though the parents have not been compliant with any of their case plan tasks. (This particular statement came from two different families - one of which even said the magistrate gave the department 45 days to file a TPR which he said should have been filed months ago)

When my kids go for visitation, they often come back saying they have not gotten very much to eat during their visit. (this sounds eerily like what another foster family and I expressed two years ago about our kids going for visitation - so this one really concerns me greatly)

I hear several recurrent themes from families when dealing with Bay county quite frequently - and they come from multiple families which leads me to think that the experience is common and not limited to one or two case managers. Most of my conversations with other families usually end with the family saying they are unwilling to accept children from that county ever again and this really concerns me for several reasons I will outline below.

I'm concerned anytime a foster parent shares stories about case managers or other system employees who do not listen to the parent's concerns regarding the children in their care - but I'm more concerned with this when it comes from multiple families over long periods of time. With the Bay County issues, I've been first party to what happens over there, but I am now two full years removed from any first hand experience. I see where Life Management has posted that they have a critical foster home shortage over there and that we are not doing a good job retaining or recruiting families there. And when less than two days later I've gotten emails or phone calls from three different families dealing with similar issues as what I dealt with two years ago, I'm starting to understand why there may be a critical shortage of homes.

I'm not naive enough to think that there aren't other mitigating circumstances that affect the practices of that county - I get that it has a highly mobile population with a very low median income. I get that homelessness and drug use is more prevalent and that there's also a military base to deal with. But I also wonder if there are practice issues at the case management level and legal level that are affecting the support that foster and bio families are receiving which are making supporting the children in care more difficult? I am afraid that kids who are removed form Bay homes are going to be shipped to farther areas of the state as more families become unwilling to work with the county - I want to help combat that because like you guys, I truly do believe that kids need to stay as close to home as possible.

So with all of that in mind, what can I do to help? What answers or tips or suggestions can I give families when they come to me with questions, concerns or complaints? What is the right combination of people to put them in contact with and what steps can they take to have their issues handled?

I know with the first bullet I offered, they are entitled to the documents they are requesting as they are supposed to be a part of the resource record and the language including foster parents as appropriate participants to be included is specific in the statute and rule -- yet legal continues two years later to refuse documents to families. Who do we escalate this one to? And maybe the second bullet would be appropriately addressed to the same party?

The third bullet falls under the issues that stem from transportation, handing off to case management/visitation center, and the biological parents - so I know this one will certainly have to have a multiple party approach - but I think this one may actually be more pressing than the first two as it really bothers me that children are saying their basic needs are not being met during visitation/travel time.

Let me know what steps you think we need to take as a community to find workable solutions to these issues. I want us to get to the point to where all families are willing to take all children regardless from which county or circuit they originate.

I hope that they will take my letter seriously and that we can work to get some relief for both the families who are caring for the kids and also for the kids themselves. Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could ever reach that wonderful goal of having three homes available for every child who comes into care - because that would mean we've either figured out a way to safely keep kids with their biological families or we've figured out an amazing way to recruit and retain amazing foster and adoptive homes!

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