A Fledgling – 1988/89

A Fledgling – 1988/89

  • Posted by Famcare
  • On January 10, 2017

Prior to launching the Family Care Network, I had researched the need for more foster families on the Central Coast and had started dialoguing with the county agencies about becoming part of the solution. Basically, we didn’t have enough families to meet the demand of children needing safe, out-of-home placements in the county; our referrals far exceeded our capacity to serve. This stark reality became blatantly clear as we began our second year. Complicating this reality was the fact that I was running solo, still searching for a social worker, maybe even two, while also trying to recruit, manage cases and after-hour crises, keep up on our books, and set up and maintain our computers. All of these duties certainly made time pass quickly!

I was fortunate to have a half-dozen or so foster families who were fairly well-seasoned and experienced. As part of my survival strategy, I was able to co-opt several of these parents into helping me recruit, train and support brand-new families. Into our future, this process would be formalized with the inclusion of the “Family Partners” position, but for now, this process was a volunteer corps of amazing, caring people. Two other significant partnerships were formed in these early days to help train and support foster families. The first was with the Cuesta College Foster Parent Training Program and the second was with the local Foster Parent Association. Eventually, FCNI would create its own foster parent training program and curriculum, but these programs offered wonderful resources for our fledgling organization.

I also became an instructor in the Cuesta training program – partnering with a local therapist in training foster parents on how to prepare foster youth for independence and self-sufficiency using state-developed curriculum. I had been selected to be part of the small group to learn these materials in the late part of 1987. I continued to develop important relationships.

Finally, in October of 1988, I hired Ken Schwartzenberger, LCSW, as our Lead Social Worker and Clinical Director. The two of us were kindred spirits, thinking alike in so many ways; both of us were passionate about creating a truly “therapeutic” foster care model. For the next seven or eight years, Ken played a critical role in shaping and forming what the Family Care Network would grow to become.

While all the growth and challenges were taking place here on the Central Coast, we were also experiencing growth in our satellite program based in Bishop, serving the Eastern Sierras of California. Setting up shop in Bishop entailed a certain degree of risk due to its sparse, spread out population. But the need there was great, as there were no other private providers, so the counties encouraged our development and people were responding.

It wasn’t long after Ken joined FCNI that the need for our foster care services really burgeoned. As soon we were able to certify and train a new family, we had a foster youth ready to place with them. The high-needs of our community created a very pronounced need for us to hire additional social work staff. Around mid-year, we hired one full-time and one part-time Social Worker, and by the end of the year we added an additional Social Worker who was a bilingual-Spanish therapist.

It should be noted, that forging a truly “Therapeutic Foster Care” model meant we had to have staff who were skilled clinically. Even though there were no statutory or regulatory requirements to have licensed clinicians, nor funding to pay for that level of skill, everyone I hired was either a licensed therapist or in the process of becoming one.

Having additional staff required having additional space and, thus unfolded another amazing networking story. Our first office was very small, consisting of a tiny reception desk in the front, a couple of cubicles and an awkward, triangle shaped area used for small meetings which was eventually taken over by staff. So, I began to get the word out that we needed more space, connecting with several property managers and other individuals I had met.

One day, my wife and I were driving around the City of San Luis Obispo, and I stopped in front of this beautiful old Victorian house located on the Creek just south of town. We both commented on how awesome it would be to rent a place like that – a perfect fit for our family-focused service model. Of course, I immediately said there’s no way we could afford anything like this, plus, it was obviously occupied. A few weeks later, however, I received a call from a gentleman, Walt Ross, who told me one of his friends had mentioned I was looking for office space and would I be interested in an old house that he and his wife had been running their real estate and construction businesses out of for a number of years. It was that very same Victorian building! Financially it was a stretch, but I jumped at the opportunity and Family Care Network operated out of 508 Higuera for the next 15 years or so.

Networking with the community also produced several other significant relationships for our organization, ones which still exist to this day. The first, was with our SLO County Office of Education. I met our County Superintendent of Schools at that time who was very interested in learning about our program. During the course of our conversation, she indicated there was a special federal funding source to serve foster youth. This discuss resulted in a contract with them which allowed us to hire a three-quarter time Educational Coordinator, and a partnership which lasted over 20 years–what a tremendous asset for our foster youth!

The second significant relationship was created with Cal-Poly. A supervisor whom we worked with from the Department of Social Services had a sister who was head of the Psychology Department. After visiting our office, she arranged for us to receive our first intern. Our intern relationship with the University has continued to grow over time with hundreds of interns participating in our service delivery, and learning first-hand about foster care and clinical services.

By the end of year two, the Family Care Network was serving nearly 40 foster youth with a core of very skilled Social Workers; and, through networking and relationship building we secured a very cool office location, an Educational Coordinator and an intern program.