A NEW LOOK AT CHILD WELFARE SERVICES

INTRODUCTION

It has been almost ten years since the Grand Jury has looked into Child Welfare Services (CWS). Much has changed, but some things have not. For example, the 1991-1992 Grand Jury found, among other things, that "Many social workers complained of lack of communication between upper management and ‘line’ staff . . . . There was also a complaint of a lack of knowledgeable leadership from upper management . . . ."

The 2000-2001 Grand Jury has once more looked into the Social Service Department’s management of Child Welfare Services in Santa Barbara County because of similar complaints by some of that Department’s present and former Child Welfare Service workers, particularly at the Department’s Santa Maria CWS office.

The complaints that triggered our investigation were not simply that upper management was insensitive to line staff, but that the system was not as good as it could be. As a result, line staff was not doing the best job it could do for its clients, the abused and/or neglected children, and their drug or alcohol addicted or otherwise dysfunctional families.

Accordingly, an investigative committee was established to look into the Social Service Department’s management of Child Welfare Services as well as into whether any improvements could reasonably be made in those services.

PROCEDURE

The committee interviewed a number of witnesses, including

The committee also inspected a number of facilities that house and care for dependent children, including various kinds of foster homes (e.g., emergency care and therapeutic care foster homes) throughout the County, and group and residential homes (including Casa Pacifica, Orangewood in Orange County, the Children’s Shelter in San Jose, a Sweeney home in Carpinteria for boys with sexual issues, and Noah’s Anchorage in Santa Barbara).

SCOPE OF THE REPORT

This report is in two parts. First, it addresses what might be done to improve child welfare services in the County. Second, it discusses the importance of good management to the delivery of those critically important services.

The report notes but does not discuss adoptions or guardianships or family wraparound counseling programs such as the Multiagency Integrated System of Care (MISC; a program in which various County social welfare agencies such as Public Health, Probation, Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Services, and Social Services provide wraparound care for abused and/or neglected children under 18 and their families.) The focus of the report is on non-kin foster homes and group homes.

SUMMARY OF THE GRAND JURY'S RECOMMENDATIONS

The Board of Supervisors should consider establishing a crisis center for high-need/high-risk children. This center would provide both emergency and transitional care for those children who are dependents of the Juvenile Court and under the protection of the Child Welfare Services Division of the Department of Social Services. The concept is fully described hereafter.

Additionally, the Department of Social Services should consider and implement the following improvements in its Child Welfare Services Division:

THE PROBLEM AND SOME OF ITS DEMOGRAPHICS

Out of a general population of about 400,000 people (2000 census), there were about 104,000 children under 18 years of age in Santa Barbara County.1 Approximately 1,200 children were involved in the County’s MISC program and 4,822 were referred to Child Welfare Services (formerly Child Protective Services). Of the latter group, approximately 408 dependent children were in foster homes or group homes.

Approximately 83.4% of all children in foster care were removed from their homes for neglect; 8.4% for physical abuse; 3.5% for sexual abuse; and 4.6% for other reasons. This report will not deal in any detailed way with the MISC program except to note that federal funding for the program has lapsed and, as one professional commented, "the program is leaderless and in disarray."

While spiking up to 9,350 in 1996-1997, the number of referrals of children has remained somewhat constant over the last ten years (there were about 4,893 in 1991-1992), but the number of dependent children in foster and group homes has varied over the last six years as follows: 1995, 375; 1996, 392; 1997, 370; 1998, 359; 1999, 381; 2000, 408.

The number of County-licensed foster homes and State-licensed group homes in Santa Barbara County has remained at about the same level over the last ten years, averaging about 113 County-licensed foster homes with about 251 beds from July 1999 to June 2000, and averaging about eight State-licensed group homes or residential care facilities with about 195 beds over the same period. The five group homes in the Santa Barbara area have a total of 51 beds. While there are vacancies from time to time, most of these foster and group home beds are usually filled.2

What has changed, and changed fairly dramatically, is the age and disposition of today’s dependent children. While not yet juvenile delinquents (i.e., juveniles who have been convicted of the commission of a crime), many more than before are harder to deal with for a variety of reasons, from aggressive and/or abusive behavior to illness, disability and drug or alcohol addiction. These dependent children are referred to as being high-need or high-risk children. The first part of this report focuses on what might be done to deal more effectively with these high-need/high-risk children.

Moreover, as is more fully developed later, while most of the County’s foster home beds are occupied by Santa Barbara County children, most of its group home beds are occupied by children from outside of Santa Barbara County.

The Santa Barbara Social Services Department, and its Child Welfare Service management, are wedded to the foster-care model of child welfare (because of its homelike atmosphere), but are so wary of the group home model (because of its institutional atmosphere) that when they have to place dependent children in group homes they place them in group homes outside of Santa Barbara County. For example, currently there are 30 Santa Barbara children in group homes; four are in group homes in this County, and 26 are in group homes outside this County

When asked why so many Santa Barbara children were sent out of county, members of the Department variously replied: "We match kids to the available treatment level," and "We need high-end group homes for high-need kids who can't reject them at will."

The first response implies that there are no group homes in Santa Barbara County which have sufficiently high Rate Classification Levels (RCLs—see page 11), yet there are group homes in Santa Barbara County with RCL levels as high as the out-of-county group homes into which Santa Barbara children are now being placed.

The second response implies that there are no "high-end" group homes in Santa Barbara County. If that is true, why not attempt to provide one? We discuss this possibility later.

To give the reader a brief view of how the child welfare services provided by Santa Barbara County fit into the national picture, at the end of 1999 there were about 531,900 children in the U.S. living in out-of-home care of some kind, with teenagers representing 30% of the foster-care population. As of July 1, 1999 in California, there were about 104,010 foster-care cases, and in Santa Barbara County there were about 373 cases. Approximately 20,000 children "age out" of foster care each year in the U.S. In the year 2000, 108 children exited the Santa Barbara CWS system for various reasons. Whether they "age out" of the CWS system, or leave it for other reasons, these children must be able to cope with life successfully. Unfortunately, many of them cannot.

For example, in testimony before Congress on March 9, 1999 the Director of the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) claimed that 40% of the nation’s homeless were formerly in foster care. Quoting from the few private "outcome" studies on the subject, the Director stated that 30% of emancipated (i.e., aged out) foster home youth had no housing, between 31% and 42% had been arrested, 26% had served jail time, only about 50% were employed (of those, 75% had very low paying jobs averaging, for example, $10,000/year in 1990), and almost 40% were on some form of welfare.

Surprisingly, and despite the results of these private studies conducted from 1990 to the present, there has been very little governmental research done on what happens to children after they leave the CWS system—none in California. As a result, very little is known about this subject, and, more importantly, very little is known about why the system has apparently failed so many children.

Outcome research is now being conducted by the Center for Social Services Research at the University of California at Berkeley; but still none is even being contemplated by Santa Barbara County or the State of California. Accordingly, the Grand Jury conducted some outcome research of its own. The results of that research are noted later.

It appears that, while many millions of dollars are spent on child welfare services each year, no governmental agency has ever even attempted to study whether any of their programs work, and if not, why not.3

For example, in the fiscal year July 2000-June 2001, the Federal share of all foster and group home care in the County is $303,113; the State’s share is $327,432, and the County’s share is $517,888, for a total cost of $1,148,433. The costs totaled $1,313,004 in 1999-2000 and $1,568,147 in 1998-1999.

While the amount spent on such care has decreased over the last few years (in part due to "welfare reform"), that is a lot of money to spend on programs without even attempting to determine, scientifically or otherwise, whether they work, and, if not, why not. That lack of research and analysis is amazing, particularly when so much money is being spent on so many truly needy youngsters who make up our future generations.

Indeed, while the Grand Jury was investigating child welfare in the County, Time magazine, in its November 13, 2000 issue, wrote about "The Crisis of Foster Care." While the article is filled with typical eye catching examples of the "horrible," the author made some statements we thought should be examined in the context of Santa Barbara.

For example: that children in foster care are ". . . often held hostage to abuse and neglect, to bureaucratic foul-ups and carelessness, condemned to futures in which dreams cannot come true;" and "Nobody bothers to keep an accurate count, but in round numbers, more than 7,500 children are tortured under what is technically government protection. Together with the many more who linger as long as 10 years in protective-custody systems, they are America’s generation of lost children, forsaken and forgotten."

The Grand Jury did not find any of the "horribles" portrayed in the Time article in the Santa Barbara foster homes or other CWS system facilities. No children were being tortured or beaten or physically deprived in any way. The facilities the committee inspected were clean and neat, and apparently run by competent and caring people. Whether any of them, even in the so-called "therapeutic foster homes" could cope with really difficult (high-need/high-risk) children remains to be seen. When asked how they dealt with aggressive or abusive children they responded: "We dial 9-1-1 or call the police."

Whether any of these children are learning to cope with society after they leave the CWS system, however, or whether they are simply being safely housed away from their dysfunctional families, without effectively addressing their adult needs to cope with life, is another matter. It is a matter that is not subject to objective analysis because there is simply insufficient research and data to do so. To date, providing child welfare services is a matter of instinct and intuition. For example, determining whether the foster care model provides the best model of care to the virtual exclusion of group/institutional care, except where the child is so difficult to handle that he/she is placed in a group home as a last resort, is currently only a matter of subjective analysis and debate.

The "there will be no orphanages in my jurisdiction" point of view is held throughout the nation, and particularly here in Santa Barbara. The "a little bit of discipline never hurt anyone" point of view is held by a minority who feel that a structured facility with professional staffing is better (at least for the high-need/high-risk child) than a homelike atmosphere administered by non-professionals, however much training they might have. Charles Dickens is alive and well among CWS managers and consultants these days. The question is: should "Bleak House" and Dickens be returned to the grave?

Whichever side you agree with, the fact that the focus on homelike atmosphere is the more appealing to your sense of how best to raise children does not necessarily make it so. Dependent children are wards of the court, usually made so because of dysfunctional families. They should be given out-of-home care, but it should be care that not only makes them feel comfortable but also prepares them for successfully living outside of it.

Moreover, one size does not fit all. Not all children are best served by foster-home care, and not all children can even be handled in foster homes. This report examines both alternatives, and postulates whether group or some other form of "institutional" care might provide the best, indeed the only, type of out-of-home care for some children.

THE SANTA BARBARA COUNTY OUT-OF-HOME CARE SYSTEM

As noted, the County’s out-of-home care system is essentially one of foster home placement, with only the most difficult to handle children being reluctantly placed in group care homes, and then mostly out of the County.

County CWS is essentially divided into three units:

Assessment

In Santa Barbara County, contrary to what you might think, assessment is not done at the outset or at an assessment center. No such assessment/placement facility exists. In the few cases where a child is initially placed in a group home that has professional assessment capability, such as Casa Pacifica, the facility does the assessment. But that is an unusual occurrence in our County.

Except for MISC cases, assessment (and, where necessary, re-assessment) of the child and his/her needs in Santa Barbara County is done by the child’s caseworker, whose training, experience, maturity, and management makes the system, such as it is, work.4

Here, assessment is begun on intake (emergency or otherwise) and continues through judicial placement. Indeed, assessment may continue as long as the child is in the system. Prescribed assessment standards are followed wherever applicable, but they change from time to time. A caseworker’s workload may determine how much time he or she has to do the assessment as well as process the ever-growing amount of paperwork necessary for Juvenile Court hearings and dispositions.

Placement

In all cases, placement of dependent children in the first instance is done by a social worker, usually the caseworker first assigned to the child. However, except where a child has "blown out" of a prior placement and has to be re-placed, the assessment of the child usually has just begun when the child is first placed into a home. Moreover, unless the caseworker has personal knowledge of the suitability of all available foster homes and group homes, which very few have (particularly of the out-of-county group homes), the caseworker has little to go on in the initial placement because there is no detailed database of the available foster and group homes. Thus, the caseworker often does not know the child (e.g., his or her mental or physical health) or the suitability of the child’s "fit" with the home. As a result, there are many initial placement errors, and a chain of multiple placements often results.

During the period July 1999-June 2000, 372 children were removed from their homes in Santa Barbara County. Of these, 165 were new to foster care and 72 were already in foster care. We are not sure what happened to the remaining 135; the Grand Jury was not given that information. It is a good bet, however, that they were not sent to group homes.

The foster-care model attempts to re-create a dependent child’s home, and to provide the child with a warm, stable, and helpful environment to grow up in. The aim is to reunify the child with his/her parents if that is possible, or to place the child with a family member or adoptive parents on a permanent basis, or, at least to take care of the child until he/she can cope with the world when he/she ages out of the system. The question is, does Santa Barbara foster care provide the warm and stable homelike atmosphere it is thought to provide?

To the Grand Jury’s inexpert eyes it does not. While the foster homes we have seen are clean and their managers appear to be competent, most of the foster homes in the County are run by single women without husbands or other male role models to assist them, so the atmosphere is not ideally "homelike." All the social workers we interviewed complained that there were too many repeat and multiple placements, so the care is not ideally stable either. Moreover, while placing siblings together is the goal, that goal cannot be met when the family is too large or there aren't enough beds available in any particular home.

Stable, caring and helpful shelter is the goal in all cases. Indeed, foster children have expressed the feeling that they are being auditioned each time a new placement occurs, and must try to please their prospective foster parents so they will be accepted. Enough of that and any child will become conditioned to failure.

Unfortunately, multiple placements appear to be the rule not the exception. Again, there is not enough definitive and reliable data on multiple placements, but the available data indicates a higher degree of multiple placements (and consequent instability) than anyone wants. The multiplicity of foster-care placements provides sufficient instability in the foster-care model to lead one to question its deified status among current CWS managers.

Thus, a table showing 1990-1991 non-kin placement data for Santa Barbara County (prepared by UC Berkeley’s Center for Social Services Research and presented as Appendix A) shows the following:

For children in foster care for two years, only 22.7% had just one placement, while 42.4% had two placements, 18.2% had three placements, 3% had four placements, and 13.6% had five or more placements.

For children in foster care for four years, only 22.9% had just one placement, while 42.9% had two placements, 2.9% had three placements, 8.6% had four placements, and 22.9% had five or more placements.

For children in foster care for six years, only 16% had just one placement, while 40% had two placements, 12% had three placements, 8% had four placements, and 24% had five or more placements.

While its author admits that the table is flawed, she says that it is all she can give the Grand Jury on multiple placements until the Center’s new research is published. So we have reproduced pertinent portions of the 1990-1991 data here as representing the best, and only, information on the subject.

FOSTER HOME AND GROUP HOME CARE IN SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Foster Homes

As noted, there are approximately 113 County-licensed foster homes, with about 251 beds, providing foster care to about 408 children each year. While many of these homes remain in the County’s CWS system, many do not. For example, in fiscal year July 1999 to June 2000 the number of licensed foster homes in the County varied from a high of 127 to a low of 103. Seven licenses were terminated and 32 new licenses were issued during this period. In past years the County CWS has had as many as 140 foster homes available.

Finding and keeping foster parents is difficult. It is the fulltime job of an experienced Social Services Department specialist in such matters. She literally asks every likely person she meets if they would be interested. For example, in one 10-month period in 2000, this specialist interviewed 88 potential foster parents of whom only eight became licensed.

Many applicants simply want to take a specific child with the purpose of adopting that child. As a result, when the child is adopted (or not), those foster parents drop out of the system. Others drop out because of divorce or illness or simply frustration with trying to raise someone else’s child. Those who stay are either "saints," or they are in it as a business. In either case they must be given constant support and encouragement. From the testimony the Jury has heard, such support is not always forthcoming.

Foster children stay quite a long time in one or more foster homes. According to Social Services Department data:

For the period ending June 30, 1999, there were 552 children in various types of out-of-home care in Santa Barbara County. As a group they had spent an average of 33 months in a facility. Of those in foster homes, 219 spent an average of 28 months (23 had spent 37 to 60 months and 30 had spent over 60 months). Of those in group homes, 49 spent an average of 34 months (five had spent 37 to 60 months and nine had spent over 60 months).

For the period ending June 30, 2000, there were 531 children in various types of out-of-home care in this County. As a group they had spent an average of 37 months in a facility. Of those in foster homes, 195 spent an average of 34 months (32 had spent 37 to 60 months and 32 had spent over 60 months). Of those in group homes, 37 spent an average of 27 months (ten had spent 37 to 60 months and two had spent over 60 months).

One could conclude from this that children in foster homes are just as "institutionalized" as those in group homes, because children in foster homes spend as much or more time in out-of-home care as do those in group care.

Being a foster parent is hard and the pay is not great. Santa Barbara’s CWS Deputy Director has expressed the view that foster parenting should be professionalized—by paying foster parents more money. While foster parents might properly be paid more, doing so to "professionalize" them may simply turn foster parenting into more of a business than it already is. Good parenting of any kind takes more than money. In the case of foster parents, more and better training plus regular monitoring and support by the Social Services Department may do even more than money to make the foster care system better in this County.

Although foster homes are licensed annually, once a foster parent is initially trained and licensed, that foster parent is not regularly inspected or otherwise monitored or given more training to do the job better (e.g., to deal with the harder to handle children). As a result, more and more children are simply asked to leave one foster home and go on to another when the going gets too tough.

True, social workers "inspect" foster homes when they assign children to them. However, the Grand Jury does not believe that such an "inspection" is the same, or has the same effect, as a regular inspection by someone in the Department charged with that task.

Emergency Care Shelters

Santa Barbara County has seven emergency shelters providing 26 beds (12 in South County and 14 in North County) to children removed from their homes. Accordingly, these emergency shelters must take children at any time of the day or night, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, provided, of course, that beds are available. They are simply foster homes whose owners have agreed to take children on this basis. However, some of the owners of emergency care shelters are now refusing to accept certain hard to handle or ill children. Is the emergency shelter system in Santa Barbara in crisis? In any event, no "therapeutic" care is offered in any of these emergency care shelters.

The statistics of emergency shelter use in the County are as follows:

July to December 2000: 144 children (84 boys, 60 girls); 36 were transiting from one foster home to another, with 2,147 days in care, averaging 15 days.

July 1999 to June 2000: 237 children (123 boys, 114 girls); 72 were transiting from one foster home to another, with 2,703 days in care, averaging 11 days.

The committee visited two emergency shelters, the only one on the South County, and one in North County. While neat and clean and apparently well run, neither one provided the sort of welcoming ambience the CWS managers speak about as necessary to keep the trauma of midnight removals to the barest minimum. They provide shelter and not much else. But when shelter is needed in the middle of the night or in an emergency, they do provide it.5

Therapeutic Foster Homes

As noted earlier, the name is a misnomer. No therapy is provided in these foster homes. The name "therapeutic" simply designates that their owners have been given more foster parent training than other foster parents (apparently quite a bit more in the therapeutic foster homes managed by CALM, the Child Abuse Listening and Meditation center). However, the children placed in these homes are more troubled and difficult to handle than those placed in other types of foster homes. For example, they are older (11 to 18), have already been in the system (usually with multiple placements), and are considered to be seriously emotionally disturbed. As the therapeutic foster-care team at CALM told the Grand Jury, therapeutic foster care was intended to be the cornerstone of the MISC program.

Management of the County’s therapeutic foster homes is essentially contracted out to CALM in the Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Lompoc areas, and to the Santa Maria Youth and Family Services in the Santa Maria area. CALM manages 10 therapeutic foster homes with a maximum capacity for 11 children. In the two years CALM has been managing those homes it has provided care to 17 children between the ages of 8-18.

CALM is proud of the training and support it gives to its therapeutic foster parents. It requires nine weeks of training after a foster parent is already trained and licensed by the County. CALM supports its therapeutic foster parents with two family development specialists (one in Santa Barbara and one in Lompoc) who are there to assist them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While CALM has only cared for 17 children, apparently only one has "blown out." CALM’s approach suggests that CWS management should consider using the same extra training and supervision for its non-therapeutic foster parents to the greatest possible extent, particularly when those foster parents are involved with older "problem" children.

Group Homes

The State classifies group homes on the basis of the number and type of staff, and the services provided, and establishes a reimbursement payment program accordingly. Thus, group homes are classified according to their Rate Classification Level (RCL). Levels range from 7 to 14; those classified RCL 7 provide the simplest level of care and those at RCL 14 the most intensive. There are no RCL 13 or 14 group homes in Santa Barbara County; those are all located outside the County. Casa Pacifica, in Ventura County, is one of them.

There are five State-licensed group homes in the County with a total of 51 beds. Their capacities and RCL ratings are as follows:

Agape Group Homes, 6 beds, RCL 1
Noah’s Anchorage, 8 beds,

RCL 10

St. Vincent’s, 7 beds, RCL 12
Serenity House, 7 beds, RCL 10
Sweeney Youth Homes, 24 beds, RCL 12

As noted, the Santa Barbara County Department of Social Services is currently using only four of those 51 beds, and is sending 26 children to group homes in other counties: 10 children in Ventura and San Luis Obispo, six in Northern California, four in Los Angeles, and one in the Central Valley.6

By law, CWS must send a social worker to visit each child under its protection at least once a month. It costs roughly $139 per half day to send a social worker to nearby counties, and roughly $629 per day to fly them to Northern California. Of course, these workers cannot manage their other cases while they are away.

Sweeney Group Homes manages four group homes with six beds each, three homes for boys and one for girls. The home the committee visited, in a canyon near Carpinteria, was rustic but clean, warm, and spacious for the six teenage boys it housed. Many had been sexually abused (e.g., witnessed their prostitute mothers at work), and all had been involved in minor sexual offenses themselves (e.g., inappropriate touching of girls). All were going to school and receiving therapy at the home. Their average stay is about a year and a half. To a visitor, they seemed like normal teenage boys at a boarding school.

Noah’s Anchorage is located in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. When the committee visited, it seemed like a way station between homelessness and either reunification with family or a foster or group home. Indeed, the Social Services Department treats it like a transitional shelter, as the average stay is less than a week, with a 30-day stay being considered a long one. It provides shelter to teenage boys and girls, and resembles a typical house full of children, with four boys and two girls when the committee visited it. While some counseling is provided, the staff (mostly interns from the local colleges) is too busy processing the children in and out, and the stays are too short for any significant therapy to be provided.

MAKING THE COUNTY’S CHILD WELFARE SERVICES MORE EFFECTIVE

As The Department of Social Services Sees It

The Department of Social Services’ most urgent needs appear to be to retain its 12-bed emergency-care center in Goleta and to contract for two to six beds for transitional care for high-need/high-risk children. The word "appear" in the preceding sentence is deliberate; various CWS managers and workers interviewed have stated their needs somewhat differently.

For example, one of the social workers says the need is "to establish a 12-bed, county-operated or supervised group home/shelter facility to accommodate the ever-increasing number of [high-need/high-risk] children transitioning to and from residential [foster] care." This worker’s concern was both about new entrants into the system and those who have "blown out" of one or more foster homes.

The Department’s Director sees a need for emergency beds to provide transitional care for children abruptly removed from their homes until they are placed in foster homes or reunited with their families. She stresses, however, the need to maintain the homelike atmosphere she believes is provided by foster care in whatever emergency/transitional care facilities can be retained or provided; and prefers using foster homes to group homes (which she views as too institutional) or a centralized reception facility in, say mid-County, which she views as causing too much traveling time. Her concern was primarily about new entrants into the system.

The Director states: ". . . the kids coming into the Child Welfare and Foster Care System are more seriously disturbed and are entering the system at increasingly younger ages. These two pressures have increased the need for transitional care, mostly for older kids, in a temporary foster-care placement while new placement with the appropriate treatment is secured by child welfare services staff."

In October 2000, the Department advised the Board of Supervisors that it was facing an "impending crisis" due to the possibility that its 12-bed emergency-care shelter in Goleta might be sold out from under it. That shelter is located at a fire station, and was formerly used to house firefighters. The shelter is located on County-owned (not Fire District) land, however, and there seemed to be no imminent danger of its being sold. The Department also noted that it had contracted with Noah’s Anchorage for two emergency shelter beds for children 12-18, and for a respite program for shelter-care parents, presumably the two women who now run the County’s emergency shelter in Goleta.

In November 2000, after the Grand Jury had begun its investigation of CWS in Santa Barbara, the Social Services Department sent out a letter to various group homes in Santa Barbara and surrounding communities soliciting interest in contracting with the Department to provide "transitional shelter care with assessment services . . . for one location, anywhere in Santa Barbara County for four to six adolescents . . . ages 12-18, mixed gender, and can generally be described as ‘high-needs’. . . . They are children who are dependents of the Juvenile Court with a history of abuse or neglect, in placements at RCL 10 or higher." The letter went on to say: "We envision a ‘stabilization program’ for these individuals to include thorough evaluations, which will aid in future placements," and "The program we seek must be for the exclusive use of Santa Barbara Child Welfare Services, have professional staff, and be able to accept placements 24 hours a day, 7 days a week." If that isn’t institutional care, the Grand Jury does not know what the term "institutional" means.

Casa Pacifica, among other group homes, responded. Its nine-page, detailed response bears examination, as it sheds light on how other professionals see Santa Barbara’s needs.

First of all, Casa Pacifica assumed the need to be for fewer children than is actually the case. It assumed that only about 200 children are removed from their homes each year in Santa Barbara, with 100 being placed with relatives and 100 requiring crisis care and treatment. The fact is that those amounts are really double what Casa Pacifica assumed (i.e., 200, not 100, children need crisis care and treatment each year in this County).

Even with that mis-assumption, Casa Pacifica says that "at any given time the Santa Barbara County child welfare system will need temporary shelter care for between twelve and twenty children;" not four to six as the Department assumes the need to be. If Casa Pacifica had known the correct numbers would its estimates also have doubled?7

Moreover, Casa Pacifica sees the time spent in transitional care differently as well. Thus, they say, ". . . children and youth who fail or are failed by group home and foster care placements also require emergency shelter care. Because they have been in the ‘system’ longer, are older, typically have experienced several placement changes, and have developed challenging and difficult to manage behaviors, the ‘hard to place’ children will remain in temporary shelter care for between two and six months while appropriate placement is sought." That is a considerably longer time than the less-than-30 days assumed by the Department of Social Services.

As The Grand Jury Sees It

The members of the Grand Jury do not have or claim any expertise in the field of child welfare, although one of our members was in an orphanage as a little girl, and two of our members have been involved with the management of various types of institutional care.

Suffice it to say, the Grand Jury believes it is naïve to assume that foster care always, or even usually, provides a homelike or stable atmosphere; or that there isn’t a real place, even in bucolic Santa Barbara County, for an institution like Casa Pacifica that provides both crisis and residential care for RCL 10-14 level children, with assessment, schooling and professional therapeutic care to all of its children.

There are simply too many children who "blow out" of foster homes and/or have such serious personal problems (ranging from medical or physical disability to significant anti-social behavior) that they cannot be effectively cared for in a foster-home setting; even a "therapeutic" foster home setting.

Orangewood in Orange County and The Children’s Shelter in Santa Clara County are county owned and managed facilities. Each does thorough assessment of each child on entrance, and provides medical care on site. They are both financed by private-public partnerships. Neither is licensed by the State because they are run by county agencies and were long thought by the State to be exempt from licensing. Whether they should be State-licensed is the subject of an ongoing class-action lawsuit.

Orangewood provides professional care for up to 236 children between the ages of two days to 18 years. Dedicated in 1985, it is located in cottages on an eight-and-one-half-acre setting with playgrounds and a swimming pool. It is strictly an emergency, crisis shelter, with an average stay of 16 days. Children are placed in cottages by age and sex. There is a cottage for families (so that siblings can be together), and for teenage mothers and their babies. Schooling is provided on campus.

The Children’s Shelter is a new 132-bed facility in San Jose. When visited, the Shelter had 117 children in house. Like Orangewood, the Shelter does not have long-term residential care. It too is operated out of cottages on an eight-and-one-half-acre site that also contains a playground and a gymnasium. It is so new that it does not have reliable statistics of length of stay, etc.

Casa Pacifica has both crisis care for 35 children ages 2 to18, and long-term residential care for 28 children ages 11 to 18. It has RCL classifications up to 14. Financed by a public-private partnership similarly to Orangewood, it is not only professionally staffed with complete assessment, medical and psychological personnel, but Ventura County’s Social Services Department uses its facilities for their own offices. The 23-acre site includes playgrounds, a swimming pool, a large gymnasium, and classroom buildings.

As with Orangewood and The Children’s Shelter, the children are separated by age and sex, as well as by crisis or residential programs, into separate cottages. The campus and its facilities appeared to equal that of any private boarding school in Santa Barbara or Ventura Counties. The average length of stay in the crisis units is 30 days for first timers and up to 90 days for repeaters. The average length of stay in the residential units is one to three years. Needless to say, the Grand Jury was very impressed by Casa Pacifica.

PHOTO OF CASA PACIFICA

Santa Barbara CWS management argues that children do not attach to institutions like these (but see "A Grand Juror’s Story," later in this report), and that they do not provide the warm, homelike atmosphere necessary to keep the trauma of removing a child from his/her home to a minimum.

The Grand Jury respectfully disagrees. From what we have seen, the institutional facilities we have visited provide far better and more helpful surroundings and staff than what we have observed to exist in any type of foster home we visited.

It seems to us that expense is the real issue, not homelike atmosphere. Since there is no "outcome" or comparison research or data to go on, no one knows whether, in the long run, professional care such as provided by facilities like Casa Pacifica would be more cost effective than the present foster-care system.

Crisis Shelter

The Grand Jury, therefore, recommends that the Board of Supervisors seriously consider establishing a crisis center for high-need/high-risk children, which provides both emergency and transitional care along the lines suggested by Casa Pacifica in its response to the County CWS’s request for interest outlined above. This crisis center should have at least 12 beds and include professional assessment capabilities so that, to the extent assessment can be done while the children are in that shelter, those children will be more appropriately placed the first time around than now appears to be the case.8

If such a shelter can be achieved by contract, as the Director of the Social Services Department prefers, then that alternative should be explored. However, one of the things we heard repeatedly was that the Department needed, above all else, a shelter, which could not refuse children for any reason except lack of available beds. The only sort of facility that could meet that demand is one owned or managed by the Department.

The Director says that the Department does not have sufficient staff to manage such a facility and that she fears liability suits if the Department were to become its owner or manager. However, the Department now effectively owns and manages the 12-bed emergency shelter in Goleta. Further, the Probation Department manages one of the most highly praised juvenile facilities in Southern California, Los Prietos Boys’ Camp.

Because of the high price of land in the South Coast, we suggest that the crisis shelter be placed in mid-County; and that the County consider and initiate a public-private partnership to build and maintain it, again, like Casa Pacifica. It will not be cheap, but it may save some of our children. As a famous television commercial for an auto repair chain once said "pay us now or pay us more later."

Other Suggestions

The Grand Jury makes the following additional suggestions:

THE GRAND JURY’S SURVEY

During the period March 16 to18 2001, the Grand Jury conducted a survey of all the inmates in the County Jail, the Male Honor Farm, and the La Morada Female Honor Farm, and all juveniles in the Santa Barbara and Santa Maria Juvenile Halls, the Los Prietos Boys’ Camp, and the Tri-Counties Boot Camp. The purpose of the survey was to learn how many of these individuals presently in custody had ever lived in a foster home and, if so, what they felt about their foster-home experience. A copy of the survey questionnaire is included as Appendix B.

At the time of the survey the populations of the jail and two honor farms totaled 896. Of those 896 inmates, 520 returned surveys, 85 in Spanish. Of those returning surveys, 53 said they had lived in foster homes. Of those 53, 22 said their experiences were good, 21 said their experiences were bad, six said their experiences were both good and bad, and four said their experiences were "OK." Their comments are interesting. Samples follow:

Four female inmates whose own children were in foster care wrote that their children’s experience with foster care was bad for their children.

At the time of the survey the total population of the juvenile halls and boys’ camps was 154. All returned the surveys. 37 (11 in the boot camps and 26 in the juvenile halls) said they had lived in foster homes. Of those 37 who said they had lived in foster homes,16 said their experiences had been good, 12 said their experiences had been bad, and six said their experiences had been both bad and good. Their comments are also interesting. Here are samples:

While this survey was a rather simple one, it does give a snapshot of a single weekend's population in the detention facilities in our County.

A GRAND JUROR'S STORY: "I ALWAYS FELT WANTED"

The following is a vignette about the real-life experience of a member of the 2000-2001 Grand Jury, who we shall call "Mary."

Mary and her brother Claude lived at home with their parents. Their mother worked as a waitress and the father was a gardener. They lived here in Santa Barbara.

In 1935, when Mary was 8 years old and Claude was 9, their mother dropped them off at the St. Vincent’s Orphanage. Their mother signed a notice that the children were to be picked up from the orphanage by no one else, only by the mother herself.

At first, the children were told that they were in day care, but neither parent ever returned. The children had no idea where their parents were, so they stayed in the orphanage.

Mary remembers a woman (a social worker?) who came, picked up Mary and her brother, and took them to visit their great aunt (their father’s aunt) who had moved temporarily to Santa Barbara to try to adopt the children. Nothing came of this attempt at this time. The children remained in the orphanage while their great aunt tried to adopt them legally.

Mary has happy memories of her life in the orphanage. The children were treated well, the food was good and sufficient, and they were clothed well. The nuns were strict, but it was obvious to Mary that they loved and wanted the best for the children. Boys and girls were separated, but Mary maintained contact with Claude and could see him at play through a chain-link fence. However, the separation was a source of sadness—they had been through a lot together—and she remembers crying about it. But she also remembers that they always felt wanted.

The girls learned to work in the kitchen and do household and other chores. The boys learned to garden and to play all sorts of games. They all raised and cared for small animals such as rabbits, chickens, and even turkeys.

After three years and many court sessions, the court finally agreed to their aunt’s guardianship of the children, but legal adoption was denied because their mother never released the children.

The great aunt's household was obviously a caring one and the children adapted to it easily and comfortably. Mary feels that their positive experience in the orphanage contributed to their ability to move into a real home, participate in it as members of a real family, and then go on to their adult lives.

Mary offered her story for inclusion in this report because she wanted to show that group homes can be warm and caring places that offer positive experiences to vulnerable children.

She said: "I always felt wanted there."

The Critical Importance of Management

"Though not widely publicized outside the field, the national workforce crisis has had a profound impact on child welfare agencies during the past decade. High employee vacancy rates, massive mandatory overtime for current workers, and rapid staff turnover are but a few of the well-documented effects."9

With that observation as background, this portion of this report addresses management issues in the Child Welfare Services Division of the Social Services Department.

The Social Services caseworker is the person most involved with the children, He or she assesses the children and decides where to place them: Foster home? Group home? Which one? In short, the caseworker decides the immediate and, perhaps, the long-term fate of children in his/her care. No person in the child welfare system is more important.

Social work requires considerable academic training followed by on-the-job development. A neophyte social worker needs to be guided (coached) in learning how work is done in his/her specific unit. Guidance includes mentoring and observation in the most important aspect of the work, relationship with clients, as well as the ins and outs of dealing with other professionals and practitioners involved in client services. Also important and often troublesome is the reporting function, which usually involves the use of complex computer programs.

Time spent early on by supervisors in guidance (training, feedback, and reinforcement) will improve the ability of each member of the staff and, therefore, the entire unit to fulfill its mission. Conversely, the lack of effective guidance can weaken the unit and compromise the mission.

Individuals who select careers in social work are special people. Many of them look upon their work as a calling. They want to improve the lives of their clients, and they understand and live with the probability that they usually will be less than totally successful and that, sometimes, they will fail. The work involves specific skills, efficiency, thoroughness, and toughness. Nowhere are these qualities more important than in the side of social work dealing with children—specifically, child welfare services.

Good supervision is vital to the functioning of any organization, and nowhere is it more important than in a social services organization. The supervisor must see to it that the training aspects touched upon in the preceding paragraphs are in place on a continuing basis and available to experienced as well as new social workers. This is part of the ongoing support and two-way feedback that every worker in the unit has a right to expect.

Supervisors, in turn, deserve support from upper management. This support includes training in supervision, specifically including how to observe and evaluate performance, provide meaningful feedback, and implement corrective measures (reorientation).

A "good" supervisor guides and supports his or her workers, secures for them needed tools and facilities, evaluates them frequently, in a fair and meaningful manner, and works to assure that recommendations resulting from evaluations are implemented.

Failures in supervision can be particularly demoralizing in social-services organizations because of the nature of the work and the nature of the workers. For this reason, when an individual supervisor reveals important weaknesses in supervisory skills over time, with no real improvement despite serious and specific remedial measures, the weaknesses must be remedied. Remediation should involve immediate attention on discovery of weaknesses, monitoring with the intention of guiding the situation toward correction, and removal if remediation is deemed to be futile. This might seem drastic, but a supervisor affects the performance of all members of his or her staff, and the performance of a staff member affects the lives of every client. In Child Welfare Services, the clients are children who are, in some way, already at risk.

Question: How long should poor supervision be allowed to continue? Answer: For almost no time at all. If a poorly performing supervisor is given one-on-one guidance, improvement should be almost immediate. If the problems are not corrected or show important signs of deteriorating as guidance is withdrawn, they must not be allowed to persist. Overall, the condition, guidance and all, must not go on for more than one performance review cycle.

The Grand Jury found it necessary to look into persistent complaints about negligent management in the Ongoing Unit of the Santa Maria Office of the Child Protective Services Division. Many interviews were conducted and near-term as well as long-term records were reviewed.

This investigation narrowed down to the record of one specific supervisor, an individual whose performance evaluations had ranged from mediocre to incompetent in supervisory roles for more than ten years. Although neither the individual supervisor nor the specifics of the case are the focus of this report, the point is an important one: the kind of situation alluded to cannot fail to have ripple effects.

The Jury was able to conclude that good work was being done under adverse conditions. It also found, however, that morale, while difficult to assess precisely, was not very high, at least among a significant number of the line staff. The Jury also learned of a high staff-turnover rate (90% among new hires in the probationary phase of their service), and a severe shortage of experienced workers. Of the current staff of 60 CWS caseworkers, less than 40% have as much as two years of experience.10 This implies that the average tenure is not much more than two years. This short tenure makes it almost impossible for the Department to do its very important social work properly. As a result, the children most at risk in our County are short-changed.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Findings

Finding 1: A "foster home" is a County-licensed home that is run by foster parents (though there might be only one) in which 24-hour care and supervision in a family setting are provided to up to six dependent children under 18 years of age.

Finding 2: "Emergency-care foster homes" take children into protective custody at any time of the day or night, seven days a week while their cases are being investigated.

Finding 3: "Therapeutic care foster homes" are run by specially trained foster parents for seriously emotionally disturbed dependent children, many of whom are in a MISC program. Therapy is not provided in these homes.

Finding 4: "Group homes" are State-licensed facilities that provide 24-hour care and supervision to dependent children in a structured environment, with services provided, at least in part, by trained staff employed by the licensee.

Finding 5: A "dependent child" is a child who has been removed from his or her home for various reasons other than the commission of a crime. The courts are petitioned to and then do determine whether and where to place them.

Finding 6: From July 1999 to June 2000, there was an average of 113 County-licensed foster homes with a total of 251 beds in Santa Barbara County.

Finding 7: From July 1999 to June 2000, there were about eight State-licensed group homes with 51 beds and three residential care facilities with 144 beds in Santa Barbara County. The five Santa Barbara County group homes have a total of 51 beds.

Finding 8: The Santa Barbara Department of Social Services is currently using only four of the available 51 group home beds and is sending 26 children to group homes outside the County.

Finding 9: For the period ending June 30, 2000, there were 552 children in various types of out-of-home care in Santa Barbara County. As a group, they spent an average of 37 months in a facility.

Finding 10: By law, CWS must send a social worker to visit each child under its protection at least once a month.

Finding 11: It costs roughly $139 per half-day to send a social worker to a nearby county and roughly $629 per day to fly the social worker to Northern California.

Finding 12: Many more dependent children than ever before are hard to deal with for a variety of reasons ranging from aggressive and/or abusive behavior to illness, disability, and drug or alcohol addiction. These are referred to as high-need/high-risk children.

Finding 13: The Santa Barbara Social Services Department and its Child Welfare Services management are wedded to the foster care model of child welfare because of its allegedly homelike atmosphere. When they have to place dependent children in group homes, they usually place them in group homes outside of the County.

Finding 14: Neither the State nor Santa Barbara County has done any research on what happens to children after they leave the Child Welfare Services system.

Finding 15: Very little is known about what happens to children after they leave the Child Welfare Services system; more importantly, very little is known about whether any of the programs work and, if not, why not.

Finding 16: Dependent children are wards of the Court; many made so because of dysfunctional families.

Finding 17: Dependent children should be given out-of-home care that not only makes them feel comfortable but also prepares them for successfully living outside of it.

Finding 18: Santa Barbara County foster care generally does not provide the homelike atmosphere it is thought to provide.

Finding 19: Most of the foster homes in the County are run by single women without husbands or other male role models to assist them, so the atmosphere often is not ideally "homelike."

Finding 20: There are too many repeat and multiple placements, suggesting that foster home care may not be ideally stable.

Finding 21: Not all children are best served by foster home care, and not all children can even be handled in foster homes.

Finding 22: Placement of dependent children in the first instance is done by a social worker, usually the caseworker who is first assigned to the child.

Finding 23: The assessment of the child has usually just begun when the child is first placed into out-of-home care.

Finding 24: Unless the caseworker has personal knowledge of the suitability of available foster and group homes, there is little to go on in the initial placement, because there is no database with detailed information on the homes.

Finding 25: Oftentimes, the caseworker does not know the child (e.g., his or her physical or mental health) or the suitability of the child's "fit" with the home.

Finding 26: Because of the lack of knowledge about the children and the available homes, many initial placement errors occur and a chain of multiple placements often results.

Finding 27: While the foster homes are licensed annually, once initially trained and licensed, a foster parent is not regularly evaluated nor otherwise monitored, nor is he and/or she given more training to do the job better.

Finding 28: When the going gets too tough, many foster parents cannot cope and simply make the child move on to another foster home. Consequently, there are more and more multiple placements.

Finding 29: There are simply too many children who "blow out" of foster homes and/or have serious problems (ranging from medical or physical disability to significant antisocial behavior) to be cared for effectively in a foster home setting.

Recommendations

Recommendation 1: The Board of Supervisors should seriously consider establishing a Crisis Center for high-need/high-risk children to provide both emergency and transitional care for these children.

Recommendation 2: This Crisis Center should be located in mid-County.

Recommendation 3: The Department of Social Services should train, supervise, and support foster parents in the manner now used by CALM for the therapeutic foster homes it manages for Child Welfare Services.

Recommendation 4: The Department of Social Services should encourage foster parents to attend and participate in meetings of the Santa Barbara County Foster Parents Association so that they can share their experiences and knowledge with each other.

Recommendation 5: The Department of Social Services should provide more professional and supervisory support to line staff to help reduce the high turnover and short tenure of employment that currently exists in the Department.

Recommendation 6: The Department of Social Services should make every effort to rehabilitate the families of dependent children before they are reunified with their parents, as the law requires.

Recommendation 7: The Department of Social Services should conduct and/or sponsor outcome research to determine, to the greatest extent possible, what happens to children when they leave foster care, and use the data as feedback to help modify Department practices to improve outcomes.

AFFECTED AGENCIES

Board of Supervisors
Recommendations 1, 2

Social Services Department
Findings 1 through 29
Recommendations 1 through 7

APPENDIX A

This table, showing 1990-1991 non-kin placement data for Santa Barbara County, supports information presented on page 8 of this report. This is the only data of its kind that was available to the Grand Jury. The table was prepared by the Center for Social Services Research, School of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley.

In the table, the term ‘spell’ specifies the period of time from a child’s entry into, to exit from, placement. There may be more than one ‘spell’.

 

APPENDIX B

Following is the brief survey used by the Grand Jury to gather information about foster home experiences of members of the jail population in Santa Barbara County. The survey was presented in Spanish as well as English.

 

The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury would greatly appreciate your answering the following questions:

Did you ever live in a Foster Home: Yes_____ No_____

If you ever lived in a Foster please tell us:

How long you lived in a foster home, _____months_____

How many different foster home you lived in__________

What City or Cities the Foster Home(s) were located in__________________

_____________________________________________________________________

How you feel about your Foster home experience? Good_________Bad_________

Please tell us why you feel good or bad about your Foster Home experience.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________

Thank you.

The 2000-2001 Grand Jury.

 


1 Unless otherwise noted, all data in this report were obtained from the Santa Barbara County Department of Social Services.

2
Some of the more important terms used herein should be defined. A foster home is a County-licensed home that is run by foster parents (though there may only be one parent), in which 24-hour care and supervision are provided to up to six dependent children under 18 in a family setting. There are regular foster homes (as defined above), and there are so-called emergency-care foster homes, which take children into protective custody at any time of the day or night, seven days per week, while their cases are being investigated by the Juvenile Court. There are also so-called therapeutic care foster homes run by specially trained foster parents, but these do not provide any therapy for seriously emotionally disturbed dependent children, many of whom are in a MISC program. Group homes are State-licensed facilities that provide 24-hour care and supervision to dependent children in a structured environment, with services provided at least in part by trained staff employed by the licensee.

3
The California Department of Social Services has the most complex computer program of its kind in the nation, with 14,000 users and 900 windows. Some of the County CWS workers have never mastered its intricacies. Nevertheless, both the State and the County confine their research, data collection and databases to determining who they are serving, what contribution they are entitled to receive from the federal government for the services they have rendered, and how they are entitled to spend it.

4
Within 30 days, each child is examined by or through County Mental Health and Public Health workers.

5
It seems that shelter is all they may provide. As one social worker said: "The shelter care providers are not staffed adequately nor are they trained to manage these kinds of high-risk children and their potentially dangerous behaviors. Therefore, the children are not only set up to fail in another placement, but are put at risk for injuring themselves or others."

6
As of February 29, 2001, seven Santa Barbara children were placed in Ventura County; five were placed in San Luis Obispo County; two each were placed in Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties; and one each was placed in Butte and Merced Counties.

7
Line staff testified that each caseworker may need up to four beds at any time for these high-need/high-risk children.

8
The most frequently mentioned "need" by those interviewed was for a professionally staffed temporary crisis shelter which provided therapeutic care. We have also been advised that the Sexual Assault Review Team (SART) has facilities that might be utilized for initial assessments in the meantime.

9
From the Child Welfare League of America booklet "The Workforce Crisis in Child Welfare" by Floyd Alwon and Andrew Reitz

10
Turnover seems to be a problem with CWS everywhere, and the Department Director says that the available qualified hiring pool has shrunk significantly.