The Delaware Valley Group’s February 7, 2014 breakfast meeting heard a lively and informative presentation by Kimberly Ali, Director of Operations for the Children & Youth Division of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services. Ms. Ali’s topic was “Improving Outcomes for Children: A Community-Based Approach to Child Welfare”. The program Improving Outcomes for Children (IOC) is one to which a gradual administrative transition is being made, with the hope that reducing the present number of people involved in case management will provide better outcomes and prevent the loss of communication that has sometimes ended in tragedy. Further information on this topic may be found at www.phila.gov/dhs/.
IOC is a community-neighborhood approach that is intended to promote safety, permanency, and well-being for children who are at risk of being abused or neglected, and/or of delinquency. This is to be managed through work with ten Community Umbrella Agencies (CUAs), each associated with a Philadelphia police district; some of these are in place and active, while others will be coming on-line for some months. The familiarity of the CUAs with their own neighborhoods is expected to benefit at-risk families, as each CUA will be in a position to know connections between families, schools, churches, and so on. Because each of the ten CUAs will take most of the responsibility for cases in its area, DHS will be able to concentrate on other important support, investigative, and training work, rather than overseeing the hundreds of service contracts previously in use. DHS is adding investigators and has added nurses under the IOC plan.
CUAs will be responsible for risk assessment, safety assessment, safety plans, a single case plan, all safety and quality visits, and services required by the service plan. They will also use preventive programming to strengthen and support families in their neighborhoods, a task for which they will be well fitted because of their engagement with their own communities.
An important point in the IOC program is the intention to maintain children and youth in their own homes whenever possible, and to make any needed placements within the community, with kin or with other people known to the child. This point about placements is an important one for children of any age. For the youngest children, placement with a familiar person helps to maintain attachments and trust and to reduce the trauma of separation. For school-age children, staying near friends and in the same school eases the transition both emotionally and educationally, and of course prevents the need for additional painful changes when the child is reunited with the family. (IOC focuses on birth through 5 years, but children’s service plans must take into account future needs.)
Ms. Ali addressed the issue of evaluating foster parents when placement is advisable. Whether a foster parent is a blood relative or a neighbor in the community, screening is required for the foster parent and anyone in the household over 14 years of age. These individuals cannot be approved for the placement if they have frequent criminal records or if they
have histories of prohibited offenses. These include aggravated assault, child endangerment, sex offenses, and drug offenses within the last five years. Partners of proposed foster parents must also go through foster parent
Ms. Ali also addressed the issue of use of evidence-based practice (EBP) methods by the CUAs. She noted that in the past the Federal government has reimbursed only when children are in placement, not for provision of in-home services to keep them in their homes. Now, however, there are arrangements such that when money is saved on placements by keeping children in their homes, DHS can now reinvest that money into other services as long as those services are EBPs.
As Ms. Ali noted, the IOC program is still in transition, and more CUAs will be brought in over the next months. We hope to hear more about this and will invite Ms. Ali to come back in a year for an update.