Across the country and the state of Ohio, public children service agencies are working with families and children to stabilize home environments and enhance the lives of children and parents who have encountered difficult times. As partners in helping children develop into healthy and productive adults, children’s service providers can offer families assistance with child care, transportation, food, clothing, medical necessity, or even holiday preparations and gifts. In cases where parents are not available –for whatever reason- the best possible placement which is considered in the best interests of the child is with kin and extended family. Clearly, re-unification with biological parents is the ultimate goal.
With all the research on the impact of trauma on a child’s development, rather than removing the child from a home, the emerging model is to treat the crisis and dysfunction versus sending a child to a group home or residential treatment. The goal is finding the least disruptive placement possible. This is true across children service and juvenile justice as well. At the recent OACCA- Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies Fall Kinship Care Summit, Ken Mysogland, Connecticut Department of Children Service and Families spoke on Connecticut’s Story. Of 1300 kids, 79% were able to stay with family, and if not, 64% of the time they went to kin. The new paradigm is ‘caregiver support team’ rather than ‘state agency’. Pairing kin with intensity of support services is the best outcome.
Dr. Joseph Crumbley, LCSW, speaker and author went over the risks/challenges with the kinship model, and answered the question, ‘what does intervention look like?’ Crumbley took the audience through an exercise looking at changed roles, boundaries, the family genogram, feelings, and what the transitional/new situation involves for each party. Coupled with kinship training, intensive outpatient, and/or PHP or day hospitalization, the transition can be made more effective for children and families. Coupled with a robust in-school therapy program, the entire provider model could become very different 5-10 years out. ‘There will always be a need for intensive care in those instances where a child is a danger to him or herself or others,’ stated Angela Nickell, CEO at Pomegranate Health Systems. ‘It is simply not feasible for a family –even with support- to monitor a child 24-7 providing nursing care, an extensive array of therapy, schooling and all the services of home in a secure environment. We are here when families are overwhelmed,’ she explained.
For Connecticut, cultural change was a big challenge. The Commissioner’s Directive to the agency was as follows: “It is our obligation to do everything possible to keep children within the family system. To this end, I am making it the expectation that all children in our care be placed with relatives and the exception that they go into non-relative care. In other words, to use language with I am most familiar; the presumption is that they be placed with relatives. This is a culture and a norm that the children need us to operationalize immediately in our practice.” The agency may have operated out of a routine practice model rather than a best practice model. For Ohio agencies, a similar change has been in the works for a while now.
At a recent county children service provider meeting, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids presented case histories with photos of children in need of foster care or adoption. The children had disrupted previous placements and were in group homes, most still receiving treatment after residential placement for more serious mental and behavioral health diagnoses. Each child had a heartbreaking story; significant trauma in their young life. Providers watched a video of what a pretty young girl experienced in a home with domestic violence, being removed, separated from a younger sibling, and what trauma successive foster care placements and re-unifications caused in her young life, and how her behavioral outbursts developed in spite of well-meaning care. Providers were asked to step up and help find a place for each of several children- with no-where to go and no-one who wanted them. Visit Star House, the Y, or other organizations and you hear and see first-hand how many children struggle as a result of poverty, social-cultural factors, violence and abuse. The effects don’t end automatically on a teen’s 18th birthday. All levels of care coming together and working to solve and relieve difficult situations is a positive outcome so that each child will know that he, or she, matters and just might discover that there are a lot of angels in jeans.
[photo credit: Dmccale/Dreamstime.com depressed teen girl on stairs]