This is part of an ongoing series highlighting efforts in Human Services and Family Wellbeing.
During the month of May, National Foster Care Month provides an opportunity to raise awareness on issues related to foster care and to celebrate those who are dedicated to serving our children, youth, and families. Yet it is important to note that unfortunately issues surrounding children and youth experiencing foster care are not limited to one month a year. As noted in our recent child well-being blog, Child welfare services face challenges every day to prevent, treat, and reduce risk of maltreatment, neglect, trauma, housing instability, and violence in communities. All these issues contribute to the significant number of children and youth who enter or remain in the foster care system. These issues are year-round and decades in the making. They need to be seen as a priority for public health and community wellbeing and not just the jurisdiction and responsibility of child welfare agencies.
To positively impact the number of children and youth experiencing foster care, there are some strategies that can be implemented now to promote change:
- We must meaningfully elevate the voices of those with lived experience to help us design systems that meet their needs. For foster care, working to hear and understand the voices of youth based on how they have experienced foster care will help create opportunities to improve the system from those most impacted. Further, the meaningful elevation of these voices helps to ensure their input is not contributing towards tokenism and re-traumatization.
- Multi-system involvement is important. We can work together to enhance access, increase prevention-oriented services, improve community health, and well-being, and achieve better outcomes using an equity lens, but proposed system reforms cannot be successful without shared ownership within the community and across government agencies. This requires building a responsive and integrated system of care approach to allow communities to seek solutions with the necessary support of the highest leadership within their organizations.
- Continue to find ways to assure that mandated reporters and staff who work within child welfare understand that poverty is not neglect, and poverty alone should not be a reason children and youth are removed from their home(s).
- System redesign is needed. From front end reporting and assessment, to working with court systems, to building up networks of caring service providers, each component of the current child welfare system and human services partners can strive to find areas needing improvement and collectively change the experiences for children and youth engaged in the child welfare system.
- Focus on mental health. This year’s theme from the Children’s Bureau for national foster care month is “Strengthening Minds, Uplifting Families” and is dedicated to supporting children and youth mental and behavioral health as the largest unmet need related to foster care. According to the Children’s Bureau, Up to 80 percent of children experiencing foster care have significant mental health issues, compared with approximately 18 to 22 percent of the general population.
HMA can help public sector and community partners align themselves to improve and develop new delivery systems that will work to address inequalities and disparities as communities strive to meet the needs of children, youth and families impacted by issues like mental health and substance use disorder, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, food insecurity, housing instability, incarceration and other traumas that impact them greatly.
HMA can help support foster care prevention or reunification program efforts in the following ways:
- Creating additional human service system integration of prevention services to help support families and youth experiencing child welfare interventions or foster care.
- Increasing Medicaid providers who offer more Evidenced Based and Informed Practices (EBP) among Community Based Organizations (CBO), Providers, and Local Government.
- Supporting Managed Care Organizations to develop programs specifically designed to support the wellbeing of children and youth in the foster care system and their families.
- Connecting the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) & Medicaid funding together to ensure that funding supports the need and enhance service implementation.
- Working to implement School Based Mental Health programs in communities. We can help convene stakeholders, create process flows, and support the development of sustainable funding for such programs.
- Increasing the meaningful use of youth voice for true collaboration in system redesign.
- Enhancing judicial engagement with the child welfare system in a way that supports meaningful youth and family voice and representation in court while maintaining the child welfare system’s responsibilities around assuring child safety. Making the court process less traumatic for children and youth and more part of a solution for them will support better outcomes.
- Recognizing longstanding racial inequities in foster care experiences that can and should be addressed holistically in communities and supporting efforts to understand the root causes for the disparities in foster care placement.
Read other parts of this blog series:
If you have questions on how HMA can support your efforts in Child and Family Wellbeing, please contact: Uma Ahluwalia, MSW, MHA, Managing Principal, John Eller, Principal, Jon Rubin, Principal, or Nicole Lehman, Senior Consultant.
 Data: https://www.childwelfare.gov/fostercaremonth/awareness/facts/