- Posted by Famcare
- On January 17, 2017
- 0 Comments
I’ll be very honest – selling “Therapeutic Foster Care” (TFC) as an alternative to group home and institutional care was, to say the least, a challenge. System thinking was rigidly entrenched in the paradigm that foster youth who displayed challenging behaviors, mental illness or any degree of being difficult to manage, needed to go to a group home so that they could receive “treatment.” Never mind the fact that it rarely improved behaviors, was extraordinarily expensive, was not supported by any research or data, and, on the Central Coast, meant being removed from family, community, school and all essential, natural connections!
Armed with research conducted by Robert P Hawkins, PhD, published in 1987, I began the arduous task of educating our placement community on the efficacy and benefits of “Family-Based Treatment” as Dr. Hawkins referred to it. Interestingly, the treatment philosophy and program elements proposed by Dr. Hawkins are still at work within our TFC practice model today, and are just as relevant – truly standing the test of time.
Particularly resistant to this “new model” was the Mental Health community. They were the “experts” on treatment services and adamantly contended that “these youth” needed a rigid, structured behavioral milieu, coupled with psychotherapy and medication management to receive true therapy. But, there were a few individuals who warmed up to the idea of family-based treatment, and actually appreciated looking at Dr. Hawking’s findings.
In order to move our new approach ahead, we needed to prove ourselves. Our model has never been to just provide basic foster care, the County can do that. Our purpose from the beginning has been to stabilize foster youth so they can move quickly to some permanent status, i.e., family reunification, relative placement, adoptions, guardianship or self-sufficiency. The challenge was convincing placement workers to refer challenging foster youth to us rather than to a group home.
To help us make this significant transformation happen some remarkable champions emerged from the ranks of our County partners. Our primary supporters included: Kim Barrett, Probation Supervisor who eventually became Chief, Susan Fuller, Social Services Principal Division Manager, John Garoogian, Social Services Manager, Holly Geibel (Garcia), Social Services Supervisor and DSS Social Worker, Marilyn Stein. Each of these individuals were invaluable to the growth and improvement of the Family Care Network and we wouldn’t exist today without them. But, Marilyn was the Champion of Champions!
Marilyn was a 100% believer in the importance and value of Family-Based Treatment foster care. She managed a large caseload of kids placed in group homes throughout the state and was convinced that many, if not most of them, would be better served in Therapeutic Foster Care. Marilyn was assertive, blunt and passionate. If we needed to be slapped, she would slap us, but would always have a solution to offer. Marilyn was our eyes and ears as to what was happening on a statewide basis, (i.e., new initiatives, new laws, best practices, et cetera). I will always feel extraordinarily indebted to our “Champions,” but especially so to Marilyn Stein.
Slowly but surely, we began receiving referrals to place foster youth who were more challenging, in some cases, very much more challenging! This became our time and opportunity to prove that a family-based treatment could really work. This was also a period of time where we were receiving many referrals from Santa Barbara County and set up a small satellite office to serve those kids and our Santa Barbara County foster families.
The primary distinguishing features of our family-based treatment model, which set us apart from County level foster care as well as other private FFAs, consisted of three important elements:
- First, our staff were not just Social Workers, but were also trained therapist. They provided individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, rehabilitation services and crisis intervention. We operated like a clinic; doing mental health assessments, clinical diagnostics, mental health treatment plans, maintained case notes and developed comprehensive progress reports. All this before the advent of EPSDT funded Specialty Mental Health services!
- Second, we trained foster parents differently, providing them with the skills to manage challenging behaviors, provide life skill development and support permanency. Our social workers served as individual trainers, teaching them techniques which were most effective in working with the foster children in their care. Plus, they received support on a 24/7 basis.
- Finally, we created a team with our foster parents, treating them as professionals who provided an invaluable service. Our Social Workers carried small caseloads–no more than 15–so that they could spend the time that was needed with foster youth and foster parents to ensure everyone’s success. We used interns to help provide transportation and extra supervision. Plus, our Education Coordinator began to recruit and train tutors to help enhance the academic performance of our school-age foster youth.
On another “school” front, the Bishop Unified School District requested our assistance in addressing an accelerated truancy and school absence problem. I was successful in applying for a grant from the California Office of Criminal Justice and Prevention (OC JP) to launch a School Intervention Project program. The program provided a licensed therapist to intervene with families, even visiting their homes, to help resolve barriers and improve school attendance. This project was so successful–reducing absenteeism by nearly 90%–that the district was able to secure funding to continue the program after the grant funding expired.
By the end of 1989/1990, the Family Care Network had served 190 youth and families and our emerging family-based treatment model achieved a 94% success rate! Some important new puzzle pieces were added to our picture, new relationships had formed and the value of community partnerships was becoming much clearer.