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2009 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 15, No. 1
December 2009

Child Welfare Worker Visits with Children in Out-of-Home Care

When children enter foster care in North Carolina they are placed temporarily in the custody of their county department of social services (DSS). From the moment children enter care until they return home or go to another permanent placement, DSS agencies are responsible for ensuring these children are safe and receive the support and nurturing they need.

Evidence suggests that regular, high-quality visits with the child in his or her foster home are a great way for agencies to ensure they are living up to this responsibility. This article will describe steps being taken on the federal and state levels to enhance visits and suggest ways you and your agency can improve visits with children in care.

Federal Law
In fall 2006, Congress passed the Child and Family Services Improvement Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-288). Part of this legislation provided additional funding to support monthly worker visits to children in foster care, with an emphasis on activities designed to improve worker retention, recruitment, training, and ability to access the benefits of technology.

Along with this funding came a mandate: beginning October 1, 2007, states had to describe in their state plan standards for the content and frequency of worker visits with kids in care. In addition, PL 109-288 requires that by October 1, 2011, all states must be able to prove that 90% of all children in foster care are receiving monthly face-to-face visits with their workers, and that a majority of these visits are taking place in the residence of the child (e.g., in the foster home).

Worker-Child Visits in NC
North Carolina’s policy requires child welfare agencies to have at least monthly face-to-face contact with children in foster care. A majority of these visits must occur in the home where the child is placed. Policy also requires agencies to have monthly contact with placement providers about the child’s needs and progress; at present contact with providers does not have to be face-to-face.

Although in the first round of the CFSRs North Carolina was one of only 10 states that received a “strength” rating in the area of worker visits with children (NRCFCPPP, 2006), our state began seeking to enhance practice in this area even before the passage of PL 109-288.

In 2006, the NC Division of Social Services launched a collaborative process to create a new tool to enhance foster care home visits. The development of the tool began with the formation of an advisory group comprised of representatives from private and public child placing agencies, the Division, its academic partners, and board members of the NC Foster and Adoptive Parent Association.

This advisory group helped create the Monthly Foster Care Contact Record, which has three main goals:

  1. To focus discussion and attention on safety and well-being for children in foster care and their caregivers
  2. To facilitate timely documentation and follow-up on identified needs, and
  3. To support movement toward permanency for children in foster care.

All 100 county departments of social services in North Carolina were required to begin using the Contact Record monthly as of July 1, 2008. The Monthly Foster Care Contact Record is intended to be used by foster care placement workers from North Carolina county departments of social services. County DSS agencies must use this tool at least once a month with each child in their custody. Agencies may use the tool more than once a month with a child if they wish.

Quality Worker Visits

Quality child welfare worker visits in in-home services and foster care should be professional consultations that are:

Scheduled to meet suggested national or prescribed state standards and the needs of children and families.

In the case of visits with children in foster care
Mostly in the child’s home (i.e., the foster home) and at times convenient for children and foster parents.

Planned in advance of the visit, with issues noted for exploration and goals established for the time spent together.

Open enough to offer opportunities for meaningful consultation with children and parents.

Individualized. For example, visits should include separate time for discussions with children and parents. This provides the opportunity to privately share their experiences and concerns and to ensure that issues that might not be disclosed when other family members are present are identified and addressed.

Focused on the case plan and the completion of actions necessary to support children and families in achieving the goals established in their plans.

Exploratory in nature, examining changes in the child’s or family’s circumstances on an ongoing basis.

Supportive and skill-building, so children and families feel safe in dealing with challenges and change and have the tools to take advantage of new opportunities.

Well documented so that the agency can follow up on commitments and decisions made during the visit.

Adapted from the Nat’l Conference of State Legislatures, 2006

To Learn More
To learn more about how to use of the Monthly Foster Care Contact Record and how to enhance monthly visits with children in foster care, take Introduction to the Monthly Foster Care Contact Record, a self-paced online course. To take the course, log in to your account on wwww.ncswLearn.org, select “Personalized Learning Portfolio” (PLP), select the “Online Courses,” and click on the course name under “On Demand Online Courses.”

The following sources will also help you learn more about visits with children in out-of-home:

References for this and other articles in this issue