What is happening to family home foster care in Washington?

I think there is a lot of opportunity to be had in a financial crisis!  There’s a mandate to change that comes from having absolutely no good choices – that “necessity is the Mother of invention” thing.  And, heaven help us, there’s plenty of reason to make changes in the foster care system.  That is the point of this blog.  BUT…is it a good idea to transfer all child welfare services into the hands of private contractors?  That is what is being proposed in the State of Washington. 

http://www.leg.wa.gov/pub/BillInfo/2009-10/Pdf/Bill%20Reports/Senate/5943%20SBA%20HSC%2009.pdf

 http://www.leg.wa.gov/pub/BillInfo/2009-10/Pdf/Bill%20Reports/House/2106%20HBA%20ELCS%2009.pdf

I have to say that I don’t think it is.  

It’s not that I think private contractors are evil.  Just the opposite.  I personally think that private commerce brought democracy and along with it, the principals of social justice to most of the world.  And I don’t think that the people running private social service agencies are evil.  They aren’t. 

Well, at least I know I’m not.  And I feel pretty confident that all but two of the folks I’ve met so far who are running other private agencies are good people.   And those two rotten eggs might have just been good eggs who were having a series of really bad days.   Really, really bad days.

So, why not?  It’s not that I think that private contractors in Washington are incompetent.  They aren’t.  The private contractors that provide child welfare services in Washington exist because they have a niche to fill.  For the past 50 years or so, they have been regulated and licensed by the state.  They are nonprofits with a mission to meet the needs of children in their care.  The people that work there are the same people that work at the state – in fact, it’s a constant waltz from private agency to public service and back again for most of them over the life of their careers. 

It’s not about the money, either.  Small nonprofits ride the edge of sustainability as closely as small business.  The large ones took the same hits that large corporations did in losses when the stockmarket fell.  (Most large nonprofits live off the earnings from fat stock portfolios acquired by donations compiled over time or left to them by dead rich people – they lost 30 to 50 percent of their value last year.)

The people that run nonprofits aren’t out to get rich.  Nonprofit execs aren’t getting rich and they never will.  At least not in terms of pots of personal cash.   They get paid for what they do, some of them even get compensated well.  But, like the organizations they run, they count their riches based on the double bottom line.  It is the good they do that makes the work a good way to spend their days.  Of course I feel this way.  Okay, you can doubt my credibility, since I acknowledge that I am one of these people.    

So, if I don’t hate the nonprofit sector, and I think that the state should take the opportunity of necessity to invent new ways to do things AND (as you know from my prior posts) I think the state isn’t living up to the bargain reached in the Braam lawsuit, why then do I think  the state should stay in the game? 

I think that for the same reason I make my supervisors take an occassional shift on the line.  It’s way too easy to throw rocks at people for doing what you yourself could not do.   Also, when the state takes on a pure oversight role, the number of people needed to oversee gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger!  That’s why there are 3 (or is it 5) administrators for every teacher in the classroom.  On top of that, I can see the priority of the people in charge of seeking pots of money shifting to asking more to cover the cost of oversight, instead of the cost of care.  Not to mention that people will stop moving between providing care from the perspective of the state-regulated to providing care from the perspective of the state.  That means less BS detectors at the state level.

The true issue I have with this proposal is that it doesn’t solve ANY of the three problems I’ve identified with Foster Care.  It doesn’t guarantee more placements for the kids – unless, of course we go back to group homes, and then it solves the problem while simultaneously increasing the damage caused TO children BY foster care.  And, the suggestion that people can do in a private setting what they can’t do in a public one just because one is a state agency and one is a nonprofit agency is glaringly absurd.  

If this is about us adopting standards for care, then by all means we should do that!  But we adopted standards for the state and the state was not able to implement them.  Now the state says that the same people can work in private agencies and get the job done, for less money?  For more money?  For the same money?  Well, it’s not about the money, is it? 

Perhaps it is cynical, but I don’t think it will turn out well in the long run to have the state step into a police role exclusively and leave the work of caring to organizations who have no control over how much money the state decides to spend on the caring. 

But maybe I’m wrong.  What do you think?

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4 responses to “What is happening to family home foster care in Washington?

  1. Most articles and reports focus on the rights of gay couples to adopt. Rayna Yourself

  2. The answer… the department needs to learn to work together with the community, families, and its foster parents and value a team approach to care.

    Most importantly Children’s Administration desperately needs leadership that is not afraid to push the system out of “business as usual” and foster true change.

    Point #1:

    Children’s needs, and what’s in their best interest, need to come first!

    Point #2:
    Yes we need more preventative and proactive programs to try to keep children with their families, but… foster care will always be necessary; some families just don’t have what it takes to keep kids safe. That reality needs to be accepted. I know this from my own personal childhood experience and seeing very broken families after fostering children for 12 years.

    Point #3

    The foster homes we have for children need to be high quality family homes; with well trained, supported and experienced foster parents (we are losing more of these homes each day).

    No emotionally damaged and abused child should have to suffer more traumas by being moved from home to home due to mismatched placements, our over burdened foster parents. Until foster parents are recognized and treated as part of the therapeutic treatment team, reimbursed as such, and their value and input sought we will continue to lose the type of homes that the children need most.

    Point #4

    I do believe it would help to separate CA out from under DSHS, I’m unsure about privatizing the whole thing, but something definitely needs to change. Children need to be put first in everything.

    It seems to me that CA is more careful to be sure that it’s employees are well taken care of (salaries, vacations, benefits, mileage etc), and that their own liabilities are covered through their AAG’s office (attorneys to make sure they don’t get in trouble for any poor decisions that they might make), that the children: their care, their needs, their rights and their best interest many times gets left in the dust…

    Point #5

    Two children’s stories, different outcomes:

    *Child one is taken from a traumatic home, placed far away with people they’ve never met who know nothing about them, they may go days with no contact with even one person that they are familiar with. The child is not told what is going to be done in their life; they are baffled by what has just happened to them. They feel abandoned and scared and uneasy.

    *Child 2 is taken from a traumatic home. The worker calls a local foster parent they have an established relationship with. The foster parent knows this child from their community. The child is brought to the home. They know the other kids in the home who go to their school. The worker and the foster family set up a plan for phone calls to the child’s family, they are given a list of friends that the child can call or visit. The child is told of options that are being looked at for them, and the child’s input is sought. The child is sad, but not scared, not bewildered and they have a nice weekend in a safe comfortable home in their own community.

    I’ve had children enter my home under both scenarios. Child 2 is in an area where the local CA office has been actively working with the community, and the local foster parents, toward fully launching the Family to Family project, it also has a pilot project “SPOKES” a hub support program that networks foster parents together (a sort of mini Mocking Bird type program).

    CA has the ability to do a good job if they let their workers get invested in working with the communities they live in. The need to learn to work cooperatively with those communities, schools, foster parents etc. to create circles of care that embrace children, and their struggling families, in a way that holds the adults accountable, offers them the supports they need, and makes sure that children are well cared for, supported and surrounded by people that care about them as they move through the process.

  3. On the subject of this move to completely privatize the foster care system in Washington State. I would like to provide a little background before I comment on this subject. I have almost 20 years experience in child welfare and foster care in our state. My wife and I have had some 50+ children placed with us as foster parents. While my background and education is in business, I have also worked for several non-profit agencies over the years. I was the state director of a program that led the foster and adoptive home recruitment and support system in our state. This program was partially funded by state dollars. In addition, I am currently the executive director of a non-profit agency that by our mission receives ZERO dollars from the state.

    My opinion on this subject comes from experience. A wholesale privatization of our foster care system is not the answer. In my experience, children in our foster care are best served by a healthy partnership between private agencies and Children’s Administration. I have seen lives saved, children healed, and communities repaired when social workers, foster parents, biological parents, relatives and community members all step up together for kids.

    I do think it would be a benefit to our foster care system if Children’s Administration were separated from DSHS. I have advocated for this for several years. However, this also would be a waste of time if we do not fix the bloated root of what is wrong in our foster care … Washington Management Service (WMS). WMS was a great idea. Its original purpose was to set aside a couple hundred positions as a place to cultivate administrative leaders. Over the years it has become this huge goiter on the neck of our foster care system. DSHS uses WMS as a place to house pet projects, create paperwork for front line workers in the name of “accountability” and is the center of the universe for the study of the Peter Principle.

    My sincere apology to the many dear friends (or maybe now former friends) that work in WMS. The only thing I can say to you is that the existence of WMS does not help you with your mission and you know it. You spend your day in meetings with no outcome and doing work that is so far removed from the children you want to serve. You know that if you stick your head up and advocate for true reform you will be relegated to some meaningless and powerless position doing busy work for your $60,000 plus salary.

    To our legislators: I beg you … please do not privatization of our states foster care system. This will completely eliminate to wonderful work accomplished by thousands of dedicated individuals in our communities and on the frontline. It not only won’t eliminate the real problem … it will only leave us with the root of the problem (WMS).

    I urge you to cap WMS to a few hundred positions. If that cannot be done then eliminate it.

    Daryl Daugs

  4. I agree; I think we can find a way for CA to improve without throwing the baby out with the bath water. The dedicated Social Workers who work inside Children’s Administration are not to blame for the problems I see in the system.

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