2007 Jordan Institute
12, No. 2
Child Welfare Worker Visits with Children in Foster 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 to heal, grow, and thrive.
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 some of what we know about this subject and discuss steps being taken on the federal and state levels to enhance visits between workers and children in care.
An Invaluable Tool
The reviews also identified common concerns regarding worker visits, including an inconsistent focus during visits on issues regarding case plans and goals and insufficient face-to-face contacts with children or parents to address their safety and well-being (NCSL, 2006).
These concerns raised by the federal CFSRs suggest there may be a need for state-level requirements regarding the frequency of face-to-face contact with children in care and both standards for and training on how to conduct quality worker visits with children and their parents (NCSL, 2006).
New Federal Law
In fall 2006, Congress passed the Child and Family Services Improvement Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-288). Part of this legislation provides 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 comes a mandate: by October 1, 2007, states must describe in their state plan standards for the content and frequency of worker visits with kids in care. In addition, PL 109-288 sets forth the expectation 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).
Beginning October 2007, states must prove they are making progress to meeting the 90% standard. Beginning October 2008, if a state falls short of this standard it faces possible financial penalties.
Visits in NC
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. Its interest was driven by several factors.
In particular, North Carolina wants to improve the stability of foster placements. In 2003, only 52.3% of NC children who had been in care 12 months or less had experienced 2 or fewer placements. This level of performance was well below the national median of 84.2% (USDHHS, 2006).
A Pilot Project
This tool could also help us meet the requirements of PL 109-288.
Working with an advisory group comprised of representatives from public and private child-placing agencies, foster parents, and other stakeholders, the Division has developed a draft of this tool. This version, which contains more than a dozen items, encourages workers to ask about changes in household membership, safety and supervision practices used in home, and other issues during each face-to-face visit with children in care.
To refine this tool and ensure it complements effective practices already in use, the Division will pilot test it in 25 agencies (14 county DSS agencies and 11 private child-placing agencies) between May and October 2007. Foster parent participation is an essential component of this pilot, and the Division will be working closely with the NC Foster and Adoptive Parent Association to obtain foster parent feedback about the tool’s content and effectiveness.
If the pilot goes as planned, the Division anticipates that this tool—as the Monthly Foster Care Contact Record or under a new name—could be available for use statewide sometime in 2008.
In the meantime, child welfare workers and agencies wishing to enhance visits with children in foster care may wish to consider the questions in the next article. Another resource to consider is Promoting Placement Stability and Permanency through Caseworker/Child Visits (2006), a one-day training by the National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning <www.hunter.cuny.edu/socwork/nrcfcpp/info_services/caseworker-visiting.html>.