Improving Foster Care in Mesa County, Colorado

The Mesa County Department of Human Services provides services that assist individuals and families to achieve self-sufficiency and social well-being. Individual and family programs protect children and adults, help people gain employment and assist them in responding to family and community conflicts. The Department takes leadership in community efforts to assess human service needs, plan for more effective and efficient human services delivery, and address emerging community needs.

Assignment

The Department sought assistance in engaging foster youth and families in a collaborative stakeholder process that would result in a foster care improvement plan. Goals for the plan were to: assure that every child gets the placement and services s/he needs; that every foster family gets what it needs to participate successfully; and that they develop a seamless continuum of placements and services, across all providers and programs, to support children and families in the foster care system.

What We Did

Youth Catalytics (then NEN) worked with Department professionals to design a process for getting foster youth and family input into the plan, for sharing that information with a community of stakeholders and for conducting a follow up work session to begin plan development. In order to gather relevant information about improving the system, we:

  • Engaged 30 families, community placement agencies and DHS staff in a brainstorming session to identify major system issues
  • Designed, circulated and analyzed findings from a survey of all current foster families (with over 40 percent responding)
  • Pilot-tested a new assessment tool with foster families that matches services to children’s individual needs
  • Interviewed key decision-makers in County government, the courts, community sectors, DHS child welfare and foster care staff and their supervisors

We then facilitated a summit with approximately 65 practitioners and foster parents, where we:

  • Reported and summarized all the new data and responded to questions
  • Articulated a vision of what successful community-wide foster care would look like in three years
  • Identified barriers to success and immediate strategies for overcoming challenges
  • Guided small groups in naming indicators of success and desired accomplishments for Year 1
  • Created a six-month action plan

Outcomes

Long-term goals of the DHS plan were that foster children and families get the services they need and that a continuum of services and placements operates seamlessly in Mesa County. Our work to develop the plan with active engagement from foster youth and families allowed:

  • Inclusive participation by over 40 percent of current foster families in the visioning process
  • Active and sustained youth involvement through regular focus groups and advisory panels

The continuum of services increased its coordination through:

  • Formation of a multilateral “Mesa County Foster Family Partnership” that includes foster youth advisors, foster family representatives, County child protection and placement staff, and private child placement agencies
  • Monthly meetings of the Partnership’s Steering Committee to proactively address issues and to develop joint trainings, peer support groups, and shared therapeutic resources
  • Joint recruitment and training of new foster families instead of competitive recruitment and uneven training done in the past
  • Improved staff morale and performance, including timely data entry critical for case collaboration
  • Strengthened relationships described as “positive and respectful” between County staff and the staff of private placement agencies

Foster youth and families are getting more of the services they need, as a result of:

  • Staff training in how to effectively partner with foster youth and families and to recognize the unique expertise each brings to the child welfare process
  • Youth-developed products and training materials for kids entering the system to reduce their fear and apprehension and teach ways of coping with stress
  • Joint trainings and geographically convenient peer support groups for foster parents across all systems

Pre- and post-surveys indicate that foster families are now more satisfied with staff’s responsiveness to their needs and the overall foster care system in Mesa County. Clients are giving positive feedback about policy and practice changes and young people involved in the system report that being part of focus groups and advisory panels is a positive experience. As a result of Mesa County DHS’s work to develop a new plan, the State of Colorado gave the department an award for Innovation and Dedication.

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