19, No. 2
NC's Permanency Innovation Initiative
Using Promising Strategies to Improve Family Engagement and Permanency Outcomes for Children in Foster Care
In 2013 North Carolina's General Assembly launched a new effort to strengthen engagement of biological families and improve permanency outcomes for children in foster care. Amending Chapter 131D of the General Statutes, the legislature created and funded the "Permanency Innovation Initiative," a pilot project that increases investment of state dollars in strategies designed to help children achieve permanency.
Children's Home Society (CHS) is a nonprofit organization with a strong focus on finding permanence for children. Since it was founded in 1902 CHS has placed more than 15,000 children with loving, adoptive families. Furthermore, CHS has years of experience with Family Finding and Child-Specific Recruitment and has been part of national efforts to test the effectiveness of these approaches.
Participating Counties. Between now and June 30, 2014, thirty-two county DSS agencies will have access to CHS's Family Finding services and 12 will have access to its Child-Specific Recruitment services. Need and logistical considerations guided which counties were selected. See the box below for a list of the specific counties served during this time period.
The NC Division of Social Services' Teresa Strom, contract administrator for the Permanency Innovation Initiative, says "Our hope is next year--since the funding is expected to increase--we'll be able to expand the number of counties served by this initiative."
Funding and Oversight Committee. The General Assembly appropriated $1 million for state fiscal year (SFY) 2013-14 and $2.75 million for SFY 2014-15 to support the Permanency Innovation Initiative. Funding for the initiative became available January 1, 2014.
To oversee these funds and the initiative as a whole, the legislature authorized the creation of a "Permanency Innovation Initiative Oversight Committee." This 11-member committee will:
To learn how members are appointed to this committee, how long these appointments will last, and the frequency of meetings and chair appointments, please refer to G.S. §131D-10.9A. As of this writing it is hoped that this committee will meet for the first time in spring 2014.
The rest of this article describes the Child-Specific Adoption Recruitment and Family Finding approaches in more detail and explains why the legislature selected them for this initiative.
Child-Specific Adoption Recruitment Services
The Model. Wendy's Wonderful Kids (WWK), a model developed in 2004 by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, is perhaps the most widely tested CSR method and the one used by Children's Home Society of NC. Although the Dave Thomas Foundation freely shares this model, only programs funded by the foundation may call their approach WWK. Because funding for the Permanency Innovation Initiative is provided by the state of North Carolina, Children's Home Society calls its services "Child-Specific Recruitment."
Under the CSR approach, recruiters employed by CHS serve a specific area--usually 2-3 counties. These individuals spend 100 percent of their time finding permanent, loving families for children. Their caseloads are small--usually 12 to 15 children at a time. CSR recruiters focus intensely on each child's history, experiences, and needs to find an appropriate adoptive family.
Children are eligible for CSR services if they are aged 9-17 and have a permanency goal of adoption, or are free for adoption and do not have an identified adoptive family. Children served by CSR can be in any type of out-of-home placement, including family foster care, therapeutic foster care, group care, and residential settings. Children are eligible for CSR regardless of their interest in being, or desire to be, adopted. Finally, to allow for the fact that the recruitment and adoption finalization process can take two years or more from the time of referral, no time limit is set for provision of services. Recruiters rarely remove children from their caseloads (Malm, et al., 2011).
At Children's Home Society, CSR recruiters are the point of contact for the counties they serve. Their job is to build relationships with DSS staff and to work closely with them to achieve permanency for all eligible children.
In addition to the counties served through the Permanency Innovation Initiative, CHS also provides CSR services to Buncombe, Cumberland, Guilford, Mecklenburg, Onslow, and Wake counties through funding from the Dave Thomas Foundation.
Evidence of Effectiveness. What is it about the WWK/CSR model that inspires such excitement and investment? In a word, results. According to a national evaluation of WWK by Child Trends, between 2004 and 2011, approximately 2,400 children served through WWK had adoptions finalized (Malm, et al., 2011).
In North Carolina, Children's Home Society's results have been particularly impressive. In our state 70% (192) of the 275 children served through WWK were matched with an adoptive family and 52% (143) achieved a decree of adoption. The median age of children served by this program was 12. The median number of days it took to find an adoptive match for a child after referral to this program was 193. For those who were adopted during the period under study, the median number of days from referral to CSR to decree of adoption was 519, or just over a year and a half.
For more detail about the WWK/CSR model used by the Children's Home Society of North Carolina, read the 2011 report by Malm and her colleagues found at http://www.davethomasfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Evaluation_Report_Summary.pdf.
The Model. Family Finding's approach to connecting and reconnecting youth with their families includes an extensive search and discovery process to identify and engage family members. Internet-based search tools, such as US Search, are used to identify and locate family members the child welfare system may not know. Strong efforts are made to connect/reconnect youth with family members or relative resources, no matter where they live.
The family leads the planning process to ensure they remain engaged and can potentially provide lifelong support for the young person. The goal is emotional and legal permanency. The support offered by family members may include inviting the child to spend the holidays with them or, in some cases, providing a permanent home in which the child can grow and flourish (CFFYC, 2008).
Implementation. Supported in part by the Duke Endowment, Children's Home Society has been practicing Family Finding in North Carolina since 2008. In 2013 CHS offered Family Finding in 18 counties. The Permanency Innovation Initiative has expanded this to 32 counties. (See table above for a list.) As the Division's Teresa Strom has indicated, it is hoped the number of counties served can be expanded next fiscal year.
Through the Permanency Innovation Initiative, Family Finding services will be delivered by specially-trained Family Finders employed by CHS. Each will serve a specific area--usually 4-5 counties. These individuals spend all of their time doing Family Finding. Like CSR recruiters, their caseloads are small.
Children in foster care are eligible for Family Finding services if they are aged 9-17 and have a permanency plan goal of adoption, guardianship or legal custody. They can be in any type of placement. Children are eligible for Family Finding services no matter how much (or how little) time they have been in foster care.
Target Outcomes. For each child referred to Family Finding services, CHS aims to discover 40+ relatives/other close connections previously unknown and/or unengaged in the child's case, who can become resource options to the DSS case worker in best serving the child's needs.
Evidence of Effectiveness. Family Finding is a promising practice when it comes to engaging family members and achieving permanence for children in foster care. Here's a quick summary of Children's Home Society's recent experience with this model:
In addition, for 89% (n=268) of these children Family Finders identified five or more family members who said they were willing to commit to a lifelong connection. For 79% of these children (n=238), one or more relatives were committed to helping the child achieve permanence.
If you have questions about this initiative, please contact Children's Home Society's Matt Anderson (336/369-3814; MVAnderson@chsnc.org) or the NC Division of Social Services' Teresa Strom (919/527-6344; email@example.com).