Orange County officials are taking issue with a recent grand jury report that found the county has an inadequate number of foster homes, overworked social workers, and a lack of oversight on the contracts of outside foster care agencies.
The report, titled “Fostering a Better Foster Care System,” contends that the county is unprepared to abide by the 2015 Continuum of Care Act, which, among other things, is meant to “improve the quality of life for dependent youth” in the foster care system, move kids into “stable and supportive homes,” and strengthen the training and improve the qualifications of prospective foster families.
The grand jury found the county has a “severe” shortage of foster homes and will need to license between 100 to 150 “quality homes” by January 2017. The county issues licenses to approximately 100 new homes each year, however, “approximately the same number [of homes] leave the pool, thereby negating any potential increase in placement homes,” the report found.
The report goes on to say that the county has “an estimated 400 foster homes, but only 140 of these homes currently accept placements.” Though the county offered reasons for why some licensed homes aren’t taking foster kids, “Children and Family Services keeps no data on the expressed reasons licensed families do not accept children,” the report said.
County staff, in a report to the county Board of Supervisors, acknowledged that the county has an inadequate number of homes for foster children in special circumstances, but disputed findings regarding a lack of oversight of outside foster care agencies and the workload of caseworkers. However, the county’s response was often lacking in specifics.
The report was delivered to supervisors during their meeting Tuesday, but none made comments about the grand jury report or the county’s response.
The grand jury said the county’s own reporting on foster homes found that nearly half of them were considered merely “adequate” or “poor.” Among the up to 20 per cent of homes considered “poor,” there were accounts of kids being denied food given to other family members.
“They described foster parents who frequently told the children in their care how ‘expensive’ they were,” and how “children [were] left behind when the family vacationed,” the report said.
Beyond its critique of the county’s overall system, the grand jury said the county is particularly falling short when it comes to “hard to place” children, which includes teens, sibling sets, and children with “serious medical and psychological needs.” The county only has 20 homes that are considered “multi-dimensional treatment homes” and have zero “intensive therapeutic foster care homes,” according to the report.
Furthermore, the county not only needs more foster parents, but it also needs to recruit parents that are “trained, certified and willing to nurture children with severe behavioral, emotional and psychological challenges,” according to the report.
The county did acknowledge that there is a lack of families willing to take on “hard to place” children. “The current pool of available homes is not sufficiently meeting the need for placements for many foster children with specialized needs,” said Elizabeth DenBleyker, the public information officer for the county Social Services Agency.
The report also said that the county does a poor job when it comes to the oversight of private foster care agencies it contracts with. Grand jurors were alarmed by the lack of county “oversight, monitoring, and evaluating” of its 51 outside contractors.
They could not find any instances of contractors providing any intensive or specialized care for children with medical and mental needs, offering homes for “hard to place teens,” and finding homes for large sibling sets.
County staff disputed this claim and explained they are not primarily responsible for overseeing these outside contractors. That burden lies with the state Department of Social Services’ community care licensing division, which licenses and monitors private foster care agencies. The county, in partnership with the state, sets the standards of care to be provided to foster children by these outside agencies, the county response said.
Finally, the grand jury highlighted the problem of “overburdened county caseworkers.” The national recommended caseload for a social worker is 16, but Orange County social workers tend to have between 23 and 30 cases at a time, according to the report.
The report found “no evidence of any implemented or anticipated effort to reduce caseloads.”
The county disputed the method by which the grand jury came up with those figures; and said based on their own calculations, a social worker has an average of about 15 cases at a time.
Kaitlin Washburn is a news intern from the University of Missouri. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter: @kwashy12.