United States. Children's Bureau.
Chibnall, Susan.;Dutch, Nicole M.;Jones-Harden, Brenda.;Brown, Annie.;Gourdine, Ruby.
Findings, Part 5
4.3 RESPONDING TO CHILDREN AND FAMILIES OF COLOR: PROMISING PROGRAMS AND PRACTICES
The previous two sections were focused on participants' perceptions. Specifically, they were focused on the types of practices, strategies, activities, and policies participants reported as necessary to improve the delivery of services to children and families of color and to reduce over-representation. This section is focused on the actual programs, practices, and strategies that agencies are implementing to both reduce over-representation and meet the needs children and families of color. To examine these, participants discussed the following topic: What has your agency done to improve the delivery of services to children and families of color?
It is important to note that given the exploratory nature of this study, participants were not asked to differentiate between programs, practices, or strategies that were designed to improve the delivery of services to all children and families and those that were designed to reduce over-representation. Agencies also were required not to provide empirical evidence of a program's success. The goal of this study was simply to get input from the field regarding the types of programs, practices, and strategies they had implemented to improve services to children and families of color. In some cases, however, agencies had instituted programs, practices or strategies to improve services to all children and families, regardless of race or ethnicity. While some of the strategies presented here may ultimately reduce over-representation, it is beyond the scope of this study to identify and empirically document them.
Agencies have responded in several ways to improve the delivery of services to minority families. Some agencies are implementing new programs and practices, including prevention programs and recruitment and support efforts for minority foster and adoptive families. Other agencies had initiated system change efforts designed to modify or change policies, practices, procedures or relations between child welfare agencies and related systems to improve operations and services. System reform efforts include: increasing collaboration and coordination between the child welfare and other child-welfare serving agencies, establishing judicial reform, and decentralizing staff into the schools, courts, and community-based agencies. Other agencies have formed task forces or collaborative boards to examine the issue of minority over-representation and identify strategies to reduce it. Finally, agencies also have attempted to enhance agency practices, including providing culturally specific training to staff, and hiring more minority front-line workers and supervisors. These strategies are outlined in more detail in the following section.
When asked how agencies can better serve children and families of color in the child welfare system, many participants felt strongly that providing more prevention or front-end services was the answer. Specifically, participants felt that prevention services would keep children from entering the system. Fewer children in the system would mean smaller caseloads for workers. Smaller caseloads would allow workers to spend more time with families and to focus limited resources on families that need them the most. In this way, children and families would be better served. Two agencies described prevention programs they had undertaken.
Alternative response systems. Consistent with an emphasis on prevention services, one of the Minnesota sites is implementing two prevention programs in an effort to reduce the number of minority families coming into the system. The first, the Alternative Response System, also being implemented by the California site (and in other agencies nationwide), is an intensive, voluntary prevention program designed to identify and engage at-risk families before they come to the attention of the formal child welfare system.
Program staff work with community-based agencies to identify families but families also are identified through more traditional means, such as hotline calls. Once identified, families are approached and offered assistance. Once they agree to participate, the staff person works with them to identify their needs and develop a plan for service. For example, in many cases parents need parenting classes so those will become part of the service plan. Similarly, if children need counseling, they will be referred to community-based ethnic agencies for services. If the family refuses services, however, the worker can refer the case back to the formal agency for further investigation. The agency contracts with local ethnic based agencies for services because it allows families to receive culturally appropriate services in their own community, and reduce the stigma attached with child welfare involvement. Agency staff reported feeling that the program is less punitive, less blaming and more family-friendly than traditional agency practice.
The same Minnesota site also is supporting the SchoolsFirst program, which provides casework services to struggling families. Developed to enhance school achievement and reduce neglect by providing family support, the program assigns culturally appropriate caseworkers to families who then work with them in their homes to identify needs and negotiate services.
Recruitment and support efforts for minority foster and adoptive parents. Since the passage of ASFA and its focus on permanency, many agencies have implemented strategies to increase adoption and other permanency options for children. In an effort to achieve permanency for children, several agencies are implementing programs targeted toward creating and supporting adoption options for minority families, including recruitment efforts, and strategies to provide financial support to kinship care providers who have assumed guardianship for a relative's child. The sites in Illinois, Texas, California, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and Minnesota have programs that are designed to increase the recruitment and retention of African-American foster and adoptive families.
In several cases, agencies have partnered with the community to implement culturally specific recruitment efforts. In the Illinois site, HOTEP or Holding on to Every Person is a culturally- and community-based recruitment program designed to increase the numbers of licensed minority foster and adoptive families. The program's primary goal is to promote reunification by placing children in their own communities, preferably with family members, and then supporting the parents and the extended family to work toward reunification. A secondary goal, for those families in which reunification is not possible, is to keep the child as close to his or her family of origin as possible by supporting extended family members or individuals who live in the child's community to adopt. Although the program has recently been curtailed due to funding issues, the program's sponsors are optimistic that they can both find the resources to fully implement the program and that it will promote positive results for children, families, and communities of color.
The child welfare agency in Virginia works collaboratively with One Church, One Child to reduce the number of African-American children in out of home placements. Created in 1985 by the Virginia Department of Social Services and a group of Virginia clergy, the One Church, One Child program has specific responsibility for recruiting families to adopt African-American children out of the child welfare system. Sponsored by an independent agency, the program not only has contracts with the Department of Social Services but also houses a Department-employed child welfare worker within their agency. Built on a collaborative model of service delivery, these recruitment efforts are conducted statewide, with agencies strategically placed throughout the state to facilitate adoptions within those specific regions.
A program similar in its mission to One Church, One Child, the Roots program, a grassroots program based in Georgia, is a private adoption agency that is used by the state of Georgia for recruitment of families for adoptive children. It places all children, but is focused on placing African-American children. Their goal is to decrease the over representation of African-American children in Georgia's foster care system. Using an Afro-centric approach, Roots recruits, prepares and supports prospective adoptive parents who can appropriately meet the needs of children who have been abused, abandoned and neglected. Roots recently moved its offices from a commercial area to a house located in the community to be more integrated into one of the communities it serves.
Texas has two recruitment efforts, both of which are collaborative. The Collaborative Adoptive Network (CAN) is a collaboration between the child welfare agency and several other community-based agencies, such as Casey Family Programs, the Children's Shelter of Texas, and Methodist Family and Rehabilitative Services, to name a few. Developed in response to the lack of minority adoptive families, and funded by a grant from the Kronkosky Foundation, CAN is a recruitment effort targeted at finding and recruiting families of color for children waiting to be adopted, including children with physical, emotional or psychological limitations. Once recruited, CAN provides support to children and their adoptive families during every phase of the adoption process, including post-adoption support services. The other recruitment effort is called Project Ujima. Based on the Swahili word for collective work and responsibility, Project Ujima brings together stakeholders from the African-American communities around the major city in which it is being implemented. Together, they plan and implement culturally specific and community-focused strategies to raise awareness in African-American communities of the issues facing minority families in the child welfare system, and to identify and strategically recruit minority adoptive families.
Texas also has implemented a post-adoption support program to provide education, social support and financial assistance to relative caregivers. In the Comprehensive Relative Enhancement Support and Training (CREST) program in Texas, a collaborative effort with Casey Family Programs, kinship care providers receive services similar to those provided to licensed foster care providers, although financial assistance is more limited. The program began in 1997 as a three-year kinship care demonstration project to increase the number of kinship placements, strengthen kinship placements to decrease the number of disruptions, and reduce the cost of substitute care by encouraging relative care placements. The program has been continued in its city of origin after an evaluation of the project showed that it made notable progress towards each of its objectives, including that the program is highly cost effective. Interestingly, because the program has been so successful, instead of seeking term-limited grant funds to support the CREST worker, the agency opted instead to reallocate existing funds to support the position. An agency administrator reported that by doing so the agency sent a message that it supports kinship care and also secured the program's future within the agency. Workers involved in the program are hoping it will be implemented statewide.
Systems change efforts. In addition to new programs, agencies also are implementing system change or reform efforts. System change efforts are those system- or agency-wide efforts designed to modify or change policies, practices, procedures or relations of child welfare agencies and related systems to improve operations. Operations include decision-making, service delivery, and collaboration and coordination between agencies and social service systems to improve outcomes for child-welfare involved children and families.
Two sites, those in Illinois and California, have implemented system reform strategies that have resulted in the provision of financial support to kinship care providers. In Illinois, through a Federal government waiver, local child welfare agencies now have the option of transitioning relatives that are caring for children to legal guardian status, and to provide them with higher payments than they would receive from child-only TANF payments. Illinois also recently modified the definition of relative to include second cousins and godparents, a significant change for children of color. Because they are now considered relatives, second cousins and godparents are eligible to receive financial and other supports targeted for kinship care providers. The California site is implementing KinGap, a program that provides financial assistance to relative care providers, again, as in the Illinois site, with income above and beyond what they would receive from child-only TANF payments. The California site also has started using state tax revenues that are targeted for children's services to fund kinship and family support centers for relative care providers.
A small rural site in North Carolina has experienced significant systematic reform due to the Families for Kids Initiative, which has been continued with federal, state, and county funds since the ending of their original grant. The overall philosophy of the child welfare agency changed with the initiation of this effort. For example, their goal was to place children in a permanent setting within one year, and to have children only experience one placement prior to permanency. To accomplish these permanency goals, they instituted several changes in practice. First, they now conduct a family conference (called Family Assessments in their agency) on every family with a substantiated case of child maltreatment. Thus, they have brought family members, neighbors and friends, the religious community, professional helpers, and other interested parties to meetings to discuss safety plans and permanency options for children. They also focus on the well being of the child, documenting the child's current functioning and ensuring that appropriate child-oriented services are in place. These meetings occur intensively at the beginning of a family's involvement with the agency and then continue regularly until the identified child receives a permanent placement. Concurrent planning is an integral part of this process; relatives and other members of the family's social network are targeted as potential permanent placements for the children early in the case.
This agency has also changed its organizational structure so that children who become involved in the child welfare system remain with the same staff team, whether they are in the protective, preventive, foster care, or adoption end of the service delivery spectrum. They also use a standardized risk assessment to assist in decisions about substantiation and placement, which staff perceive as reducing the numbers of minority children who may be brought into the system for subjective reasons. Additionally, their targeted recruitment of foster and adoptive families for minority children has increased. In line with this, they began to use relatives, fictive kin (i.e. unrelated persons who have a close relationship with the family), and more diverse foster families (e.g. single parents, low-income parents) as placement options for these children. They also have a foster-adopt model, so that foster parents are encouraged to adopt legally available children in their care. Their philosophy is that all children deserve permanency, so they do not stop recruiting for a home for a particular child until the child ages out of the system. They also made a commitment to keep children in placements within their county so that reunification efforts would not be thwarted by distance. Finally, they worked to reduce the numbers of children in group placements to a minimum, and to reduce the numbers of children discharged from group homes due to infractions. Importantly, the Families for Kids effort included an evaluation, which documented that this site had accomplished most of their goals and had indeed reduced the racial disproportionality in their child welfare system.
Collaboration and contract services. To serve minority clients better and reduce over-representation, agencies also are increasing the frequency with which they collaborate and contract with community-based agencies for services, another form of system reform. While most of the nine agencies had formal contracts with outside service providers, participants in Illinois, Virginia, and Minnesota identified contracts with ethnic- and other child-welfare serving agencies to provide foster care, adoption, and support services to minority clients as a major resource to them.
The Illinois site, for example, has a contract with the Nation of Islam to recruit and support case aides to work with child-welfare involved Muslim families. The agency also maintains contracts with several other African-American and Hispanic agencies to provide a wide range of culturally appropriate services, including substance abuse, mental health and support services, to meet the needs of their minority clients.
The Virginia site has several contracts with local private agencies to provide support services to child welfare workers and clients, but the primary one is with a local private social service agency called Collaborators-II (C-2). Recognizing the potential for staff burn-out, the administration initiated the contract to assist child welfare workers to perform their responsibilities more effectively by providing them with support services and training opportunities. To this end, C-2 provides case planning and adoption studies for families involved in the child welfare system. This service takes some of the burden off the child welfare staff, allowing them more time to complete paperwork or work with families.
C-2 also is responsible for developing and delivering training sessions on a variety of child-welfare related topics to agency staff. Because of the nature and intensity of their work, too often child welfare staff miss out on training opportunities. This aspect of the contract brings the training to the agency and helps agency staff stay on top of current trends in child welfare policies, practices, and related issues. While there are no hard data at this time, participants from both the child welfare agency and C-2 report that these activities have consistently reduced the over-representation of minority families in the system. The Virginia site also maintains service contracts with two of the local faith-based agencies, one to assist in finding foster and adoptive homes for African-American children, and the other to provide child welfare and support services to agency-involved families.
In Georgia, an exciting program for community partnering exists to which the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) is very much committed. The Community Partnership for Protecting Children (CPPCP) works in partnership with the local East Point Community Action Team (EPCAT) to protect children who reside in communities that have been identified by DFCS as having a high number of children involved with child protective services. Supported with funds from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, this collaboration is aimed at building the community's capacity to protect children and keep them from entering the system. EPCAT provides concrete services (e.g., housing, consumable goods, emergency financial assistance) to families at-risk and engages the community in supporting them to keep their children or to facilitate reunification. DFCS also has placed a worker (who considers herself a community organizer) in the EPCAT office so that she can be closer to the community she serves. In this role, she works with the schools, churches, police, and other agencies in the community to set up prevention programs. She also works to facilitate the delivery of services and goods to families identified as at-risk for abuse or neglect, and provides on-site counseling and crisis intervention to families at-risk.
Agencies also are responding by decentralizing staff, getting them out of the agency and into the schools, courts, and community-based agencies.
According to participants in the agencies that are decentralizing staff, this strategy allows workers to educate other social service systems and communities about the child welfare system, which can reduce the number of inappropriate referrals to the agency. It also brings the workers closer to those who need them. For example, the site in Virginia has placed two workers in the courts to help provide a link between the department and the court system, and placed another worker in the school from which a high number of referrals are received by the agency. They also have a worker who has been placed with a private adoption agency to oversee and facilitate placements for agency-involved children. The Georgia site has decentralized its offices to different locations throughout the county to provide better working conditions for staff and easier access to services for clients. The site also has a staff person located in the court to help build a strong relationship between the agency and the courts. The Texas site has an office located in the court staffed with workers from the agency. The agency also has placed a worker in an ethnic-based community service center, which happens to be housed in the neighborhood from which the agency receives the majority of its cases. Not only has the worker been able to see her clients more regularly, but also, now that the worker is in the community center rather than the agency, her clients actually come to her before problems arise or when they are feeling particularly vulnerable or in need of support.
Councils on over-representation. Some agencies have responded to the issue of over-representation by developing and implementing coalitions, councils or other collaborative boards to examine the issue of over-representation, and problem-solve ways to reduce it. The California site has two such councils, the African-American Council and the Spanish Speaking Council. They also have the African-American Advisory and Advocacy Board. Developed in the early 90s, at a time when the agency's staff was overwhelmingly white and the client population overwhelmingly African-American, the Board, composed solely of child welfare staff, came together to examine ways to develop and maintain a culturally diverse and culturally competent staff. The members of the council take pride in the contribution they have made to the agency. For example, since 1996, their efforts have increased the number of African-American workers employed by the agency by 13 percent, as well as the number of African-American supervisors and senior managers.
The Texas site has two such councils. The Diversity Council is an interagency council responsible for ensuring that staff are culturally sensitivity, and the agency supports practices that represent the interests of minority groups, including, for example, recruiting and hiring African-American and Spanish-speaking staff. The Collaborative Adoption Network (CAN), as described above, is a collaborative council composed of representatives from the child welfare agency and several other community-based agencies whose mission it is to find and recruit families of color for children awaiting adoption. While numbers are not yet available, members of the CAN report that their efforts have increased the number of minority adoptions through the child welfare agency and other private adoption agencies.
Finally, Michigan has the Minority Over-representation Think Tank. Formed because of a mutual concern on the part of multiple agencies and service providers regarding the number of African-American children in foster and residential care, the Think Tank is devoted to identifying factors responsible for minority over-representation that are internal to the child welfare system. The group comprises individuals, mostly at the administrative level, with extensive experience working in the child welfare system; particularly in communities that are predominantly minority or that have an over-representation of minority children in the system.
Agency practices. Agencies also have responded to improving the delivery of services to minority families by focusing on agency practices. Specifically, they have been implementing practices related to the training and supervision of staff, as well as implementing hiring practices designed to diversify the staff to represent the client population better.
Most state-administered systems sponsor a training program that is mandatory for new workers. In California, Virginia, Texas, and Minnesota this mandatory training includes a cultural competency component. In the Texas, California and Minnesota sites, the local or regional agency also sponsors its own culturally specific training, which is generally offered on an ongoing basis and is specific to the groups represented locally. In Texas, workers are required to attend cultural diversity training that is designed to raise their awareness of issues related to specific racial and ethnic groups. In addition, the agency offers optional classes throughout the year on specific ethnic groups and related issues. For example, one optional class was designed to teach workers about Mexican American families, including information regarding their religious and cultural holidays. While these classes are optional, workers are required to maintain a certain number of cultural training hours each year.
One of the Minnesota sites provides a range of training that covers issues related to a variety of racial and ethnic groups and also provides staff with an annual stipend that can be applied to outside training. Staff are encouraged to use this money to improve their knowledge of local racial and ethnic groups. The other Minnesota site also offers local training to its workers. Because this site is located in such a diverse county, on-going cultural competency training is imperative to effective service delivery. In the last year, this site has sponsored training sessions on issues related to Hmong, Mongolian and Somali families. The California site also offers its own training which includes components on ethics and values. The Ethics and Values training not only teaches the specifics of working with different racial and ethnic groups but also includes a large component that is focused on assisting workers to recognize their own biases and finding ways to control them while working towards minimizing them.
Staff diversity. Several agency administrators reported that effective practice begins with staff diversity or a staff that reflects the population served by the agency. As a result, they were implementing efforts specifically designed to diversify their staff.
The administration in Texas is committed to diversifying its staff. Administrators talked at length about the importance of having a diverse staff especially in response to a diverse client population. Located in a predominantly Hispanic community, the agency has little trouble recruiting and retaining Hispanic staff. They do, however, have difficulty finding African-American staff. This is not because they have not tried. They have several initiatives in place to reach out to the African-American community. One such program is an internship program targeted toward African-American social work students. Coordinated through the local university and supported by the child welfare agency, the internship provides qualified students with the opportunity for paid employment with the child welfare agency and financial assistance for tuition support. For the last three years, however, the internship position has not been filled. While discouraged by this, the administration continues to set aside the funds for the position each year because, with a large Hispanic and African-American client population, they are aware of the issues related to providing quality, culturally appropriate services to minority clients. Until they fill the internship position, they will continue to search for alternative strategies to recruit and maintain African-American staff and to implement culturally appropriate practices and programs.
The administration in the California site also is committed to diversifying its staff. After coming under fire for decades from the African-American community for what they perceived as differential and inappropriate treatment of African-American children, including the lack of minority workers within the agency, the agency was ready for change. Under the direction of the new administrator, there have been concerted efforts to increase the number of minority staff, including altering the standards by which staff could be hired. Previous requirements for employees to hold a Master's degree were changed to provide opportunities for B.A.-level workers. Altering the standard has significantly increased the number of African-American workers employed within the agency.
Although these changes led to tensions among the staff initially, most of the current staff feel positively about the agency's success in diversifying the staff. In addition, the administrator also restructured the organizational chart, providing management opportunities that previously did not exist for some staff, created minority leadership committees within the agency, and mandated cultural competency training for staff. In combination, these efforts have resulted in a more racially balanced staff that is better positioned to provide quality services to clients, regardless of their race or ethnicity. The administration reports anecdotally that these changes have improved services to children and families of color, although empirical evidence of such changes is not available.
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