Friday, June 3, 2011

Permanency Quotas

Being a child welfare supervisor over the last year has opened my eyes to many new thing. I keep wanting to write about the field from a slightly less micro level perspective, but individual stories are what capture my heart. So that is what you get around here most often! I especially want to share with you my experience with my team members - they each come at the field with different strengths and weaknesses. Supervising them all is such a wonderful challenge. So much to write... so little time and energy!

To give a little background, I work for a private child welfare agency who is contracted by the state CPS system to provide services to families. Pretty much all families in my state are serviced by private agencies - the state only monitors specific populations, such as children residential care. Part of being a state contracted agency is being constantly monitored by the state (and federal) government. We have endless protocols and audits to make sure we are following those protocols. I have to write monthly reports detailing certain issues that are followed closely by special "Protocol Monitors". All kinds of checks and balances that I struggle to appreciate while filling out mindless paperwork.

One thing that has caught my attention recently is the talk floating around the office about our end of year "permanency numbers". Apparently the state and federal government require us to set "goals" in regards to how many children will achieve permanency in a given year. I had never heard such a thing as a caseworker. But since I had heard rumor of workers and agencies getting "bonus" money based on adoptions, I figured I would delve a little deeper into what the higher ups were discussing.

Apparently its just another checks and balances. It doesn't effect our contract or money-flow. Its just another way our "performance" is evaluated overall. But there were some things that I found interesting. Such as, the "permanency numbers" aren't just counted by the exact number of individual children that achieve a permanent living arrangement. Certain types of permenancy have different "point values". Kind of like "extra credit" given if we do a really good job at the work we are supposed to be doing.

I also found it interesting that one type of permanency gets no credit at all - children who achieve 'Independence'. This essentially means that they 'aged out' of the system without returning home, having guardianship taken or being adopted.

Rightfully so.

No kudos for having kept a kid in care long enough for them to turn 21 without a permanent family. Sure, some of these kids chose not to be adopted, have a family of their own choosing, or will return to their biological families. But essentially, we failed them. We couldn't make things right enough with their family of origin for them to safely return home. We couldn't find a relative that could take guardianship of them. We couldn't help them attach to adoptive family. We don't deserve any credit for those situations.

But most interesting? The type of 'permanency' with the highest point value?

Reunifying 'traditional-level' children with their family of origin.

I found that a little surprising at first. I mean, it seems that extra credit should be given for the hardest types of permanencies to acheive right? Which in MY mind would be something like "Adoption of children with behavioral special needs over the age of 18". Or maybe, "Adoption of young children with severe special needs likely requiring live-long nursing care".

Returning kids with no special needs to their parents? Why give props for that?

Then I thought about it a little longer and realized that my thinking was backwards. We shouldn't get bonus points for creating disasters and then managing to piece something together. We should be working the hardest to prevent those horrific situations from happening! We should get extra props for a) fulfilling the stated goal of foster care [reunification] and b) doing it in such a way that children are minimally traumatized.

That is definitely worth something.

I've been "doing my part" over the last month. A case with three kids returned home to their mom two weeks ago. Hopefully Penny will return to her mom next week. And in two weeks there are three more kids who will hopefully return to their parents custody. The timing of these has nothing to do with our "reunification numbers" though - more to do with the natural break of summer being a good transition time. Like I said before, the caseworkers know almost nothing about this protocol and supervisors like me only hear about it in conjunction with a bunch of other details we are doing to mark the end of another fiscal year.

No matter what, I am super excited for these families!


  1. Rachel-I respect you and your work and I appreciate the way you provide insight into the system here on your blog. Having said that, I just have to say that it is not a failure of the system when a kid ages out and becomes independent. Perhaps that kid did attach to a family. Perhaps the kid himself did not want to take the step of adoption. He was too traumatized. "Parents never did me any good".

    It happens. It happened to one of my sons. He has been to hell and back many times with his biological family. He survived horrific abuse. It took him a long time, but he is attached to our family. My husband and I are his Mom and Dad and we will be until we die regardless of the kid's last name or legal status. That's permanency.

    Because of my experience with my son, it makes me a little queasy to think that an agency gets the most "points" for returning a child home to their family of origin.

    I know you work hard and I do appreciate that you share the details here. And I know that the system can't get it right every single time. Some kids are going to end up like mine. And it is my belief that if the system is going to assign "points" for permanency then there certainly should be points for all kinds of permanency and we should certainly give credit to social workers who support a family like mine. Just my .02.

  2. Thank you Anonymous! I just wasn't to make it clear that I don't think kids who reach independance have failed. I do know many that have loving secure families but have chosen not to make those relationships "official".

    However, I do think the system has failed these kids. We didn't catch abuse fast enough, didn't provide enough support, couldn't "fix" things...

    We don't deserve the credit for these kids. THEY deserve credit - more than I could ever give! Credit for getting out, credit for making any connection at all, credit for surviving...

    I know that individually, some of these kids are successes. But the overall group of kids who age out are at so much risk that it is hard for me to see it as a good thing.

    Thanks again for your comment though - I appreciate your support!

  3. I am my experience not all social workers are as good as you...and can feel pressured to send kids back home "reuiniting" a situation not ready or never going to be fully ready...and into harms way. I know there are things in place to "catch" these unfortunate circumstances...but to have a point/reward system....hmmm. I would love to hear there is an incentive to find an older child a home or forever family/adults to lean on/a mentor...that would be great too:) I think you do an amazing job....and I am grateful for your sharing this information with helps us understand the system better as well. Thank you:)

    Rita Brennan Freay

  4. nice to hear that something about the system is not broken!


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