I. Prevention and Early Intervention
The Prevention/Early Intervention Committee of the CWC recommends that California commit, over a reasonable time period, to bring Differential Response to scale statewide.
The core elements of Differential Response* required to prevent child abuse and neglect in California will be identified and then applied to a cost/benefit analysis. Implementation of Differential Response could greatly reduce the number of children who might otherwise be removed from their homes and placed in foster care.
Prevention is broadly construed as the absence of, or the reduction in risk of, child maltreatment. Prevention, therefore, means avoiding identification by Child Welfare Services, avoiding re-entry into the system, or promoting quick exit from the system.
The potential for bringing Differential Response to scale in California presents an opportunity to formalize the full prevention continuum across all families that encounter the Child Welfare Services (CWS) System, in close partnership with other child-serving departments and community partners.
- Identify and standardize core elements of Differential Response specific to California.
- Prioritize eligibility and streamline access to all departments of the Health and Human Services Agency and other public partners.
- Coordinate prevention/early intervention with strategic partners.
- Determine the scope of resource and funding requirements for full implementation of Differential Response.
- Develop a process for receiving guidance for implementation of Differential Response.
- Establish performance-based outcomes for Prevention/Early Intervention systems in California.
(* Differential Response is designed to ensure child safety through expanding the ability of child welfare agencies to respond to reports of child maltreatment. It is generally applied to low- and moderate-risk cases with no immediate safety concerns. Those cases are offered timely, strengths-based services without a formal determination or substantiation of child abuse or neglect.)
The Permanency Committee of the CWC recommends a statewide commitment to increase the number of children who have permanency through the implementation of Family Finding and Engagement (FFE) in all 58 California counties. FFE is a demonstrated model for identifying, engaging, and sustaining permanent connections for children and youth in care, and transitioning those youth to permanency.
Having reviewed the critical research and evidence, as well as surveyed all 58 California counties regarding existing practice, the Permanency Committee has identified the structure and resources needed to ensure that: 1) children and youth in foster care are able to maintain and develop permanent connections with relatives and other important individuals in their lives, and 2) the length of time children are in foster care is reduced as a result of the identification of these permanent connections.
The current recommendations identify the necessary components of successful FFE implementation, at both the statewide and local levels, as well as a vehicle for local implementation - the local commissions established by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care.
- Promote collaboration and implementation of FFE through local commissions.
- Facilitate collaboration and implementation of FFE on the part of the state child welfare, probation, and court systems.
- Provide for sustainability of FFE through training and technical assistance.
Statewide implementation of FFE will help the state comply with new federal legislation, the Fostering Connections Act, which mandates FFE activities. Implementation of the committee’s recommendations will also support pending state legislation, Assembly Bill 938. The fiscal impact of the recommendations varies widely based upon the specific approach to be undertaken by each county.
III. Child Development and Successful Youth Transitions
The CWC Child Development and Successful Youth Transitions Committee was created to address the health, mental health, educational, and social development needs of children and youth in the child welfare system. This includes supporting successful transitions to adulthood for youth aging out of foster care. The Committee’s initial set of recommendations focus on two high priority areas within its charge – successful youth transitions and equal access to mental health services. The Committee’s recommendations are actionable within the next 12-18 months, and build upon best and promising practices, taking into consideration the challenging economic climate in California.
Successful Youth Transitions
Compared to their peers, many foster youth do not receive the services, supports, life skills, opportunities, and guidance they need to complete high school and successfully transition to adulthood. Foster children and youth also disproportionally experience educational disabilities, health, mental health, and substance abuse issues. Adding to these individual challenges are missed system opportunities to collaborate, share data, and leverage resources. Given these poor outcomes for foster youth aging out of care, the Committee has made eight recommendations in four critical areas – Transition Planning, Services and Supports; K-12 Education; Post-secondary Education; and Workforce Development and Employment.
Transition Planning, Services, and Supports
- California should promote the development of comprehensive, collaborative, youth-driven local support systems to foster connections for success for foster youth aged 14 to 24.
- California should extend child welfare benefits to foster youth aged 18 to 21.
- Timely, accurate education data on foster youth should be made available to the courts, social workers, probation officers, and school personnel to enable the early identification of foster youth at risk for school failure and allow for effective educational case management.
- The California Department of Education and the State Board of Education be authorized to promulgate a uniform partial credit transfer regulation to ensure foster youth receive academic credit for work completed.
- All foster youth should have access to postsecondary education planning information beginning as early as age 13, and post-secondary education goals should be considered in the development of foster youth transition plans by 2010-11.
- All foster youth pursuing higher education either at a public college or university should have access to comprehensive campus support programs in 2010-11, or as soon as fiscally feasible.
Workforce Development and Employment
- California should increase access to workforce development and employment opportunities by replicating statewide the Santa Clara County Emancipated Foster Youth Program, which provides public sector, entry-level jobs to untrained, economically-disadvantaged youth transitioning out of foster care.
- California should increase access to workforce development and employment opportunities by funding a collaborative foster youth specific workforce development project from the Workforce Investment Act’s 15 percent Set Aside Funds in addition to other federal, state, local, and private funds.
Equal Access to Mental Health Services
In addition to addressing successful youth transitions, the Committee is recommending improving access to mental health services, especially for youth placed out-of-county. Available research shows that foster children and youth represent an extremely high-risk population for socio-emotional, behavioral, and psychiatric problems requiring mental health treatment. While California has made recent strides to address mental health access with the passage of the Mental Health Services Act and SB 785, for example, many foster children and youth do not receive equal access to the mental health treatment they need and are legally entitled to.
- California should ensure access to appropriate, medically necessary mental health services for foster youth with a particular emphasis on those placed across county lines.
- The California Department of Mental Health should provide annual reports measuring progress toward the goal of equal access for foster youth placed out-of-county.
IV. Data and Information Sharing
The Data Linkage and Information Sharing Committee of the CWC is focused on the problems faced by children and families in the Child Welfare system when government agencies do not share information. After reviewing the existing research and policy directives from many sources, and research conducted by both the University of California, Davis and the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Committee recommends the sharing and linking of data related to children in child welfare. The Committee also recommends a series of concrete steps designed to bring state and local entities together with the long-term goal of breaking down institutional and technical barriers to sharing data and information.
Background (Description of Issues):
Children and families involved in the Child Welfare System (CWS) receive services from multiple systems, including the Department of Health Care Services (Medi-Cal), Department of Mental Health, Department of Education, and the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. Those charged with the care of children involved in the CWS system are faced with a fragmented system that often provides incomplete data and information. Key information needed to protect the child, ensure the child’s well-being, and achieve timely reunification or other permanent plan is found not just in the records of the child welfare agencies, but also in the records maintained by the courts, schools, medical offices, probation departments, and other providers. This fragmentation results in a lack of coordination among providers, leading to well-documented problems such as service delays, dangerous placements, and the interruption of health care and educational services.
The data systems currently in use in the courts, child welfare, education, health, juvenile justice, and other areas were independently developed without anticipating the technological advances that now allow for massive amounts of information to be compiled and exchanged. In addition, each type of data maintained for foster children– placement, health, education, mental health, substance abuse, and court records – is subject to its own complex set of privacy laws and regulations.
Without electronic linkage, agencies are unable to efficiently manage cases or track child well-being measures. The cost-savings and administrative efficiencies that result from linked data systems, such as a social worker’s ability to access court calendars or file court documents electronically, go unrealized.
In addition to the problems these unlinked systems cause while children are in the care of the system, there are challenges in providing outcome information as the youth transition from care and enter the workforce, post-secondary education, and the juvenile and adult corrections systems. Greater availability of information as the system works with youth in their early transition planning could help them select the best options available to create long-term self sufficiency and well-being.
- Articulate a policy that supports the sharing and linking of data on children and families in the Child Welfare Services system.
- Create and maintain an inventory of national, state, and local practices on data sharing and information exchange.
- Prepare a set of policy briefs on laws related to information sharing in health, mental health, education, and substance abuse.