Obstacles & Tenacity – 2014/2015–Year 28

If I were to identify two words to describe 2014/2015, they would be “nimbleness” and “flexibility.” One of the givens when you’re working in a business environment of constant change, flux, unknowns and surprises, is the need to rapidly respond and adapt quickly! Our Year 28 was another year where we were exercising our nimbleness and flexibility, and further refining our dynamic, adaptive strategic planning process.

The Family Care Network had gone through an amazingly long process to become licensed as an adoption agency. It really took intervention from high places and key people to get us our license. But we got it. Our Adoptions Manager, Dana Nichols, really did a masterful job of getting us through the process and preparing us to launch the new program. Now, the challenge was what we do next. We discovered that Santa Barbara Social Services was having serious fiscal issues and basically backed away from providing referrals and opportunities as they had promised–which was not good! Faced with this challenge and a fairly substantial decrease in our foster care caseload in Santa Barbara due to a lack of foster families, definitely required a rapid-response, adaptive reaction.

From FY 2009/10 to 2014/15, the Family Care Network had lost well over $1.5 million in our foster care programs, mostly in Santa Barbara County. Just to demonstrate that we weren’t being flaky or irresponsible with our funding, private foster providers like ours, had not received a Cost of Living Adjustment in California rate for 15 years, and then the state cut the rate by 10% in 2009. As you well know, the cost of living didn’t stop increasing over that time span, so we were left to do whatever it took to keep our services afloat. Key “Core Support Grants” from several large foundations plus aggressive fundraising activities definitely helped keep the lights on.

Well, enough was enough. We had to make some major changes, and we did. We closed our two state licensed Santa Barbara County based sub-offices, we consolidated our foster care administration into our San Luis Obispo office and reassigned staff, and we downsized workspace. These changes were not easy. Change always comes hard but we had no other choice.

Added to these changes, I really stepped up my advocacy at the state level regarding rate inadequacy and how it was killing our industry. With the state planning to move youth out of licensed group homes back into the community to be better served in agencies like ours, they had an obligation to make sure we are fiscally whole. Under existing rates, we could not pay competitive salaries, let alone operate a viable foster parent recruitment operation. The fight was on!

About mid-year, SLO County Social Services asked if we would be interested in temporarily operating their Housing Support Program (HSP) until they finalized how they wanted to administer the program. The County had been selected as one of eight counties statewide to provide housing for homeless families under the CalWorks program. As a housing provider, we were more than happy to oblige their request, but also understood the tremendous challenge of finding housing in one of the least affordable housing corridors in the United States.

What we learned in our Transitional Age Youth Housing program is that you really need to own housing units. So we approached DSS about purchasing some property, not knowing if they had any funding for it or if it was at all possible. Much to our pleasure and surprise, they said this was an option with one caveat–any transaction had to be completed before the end of that current fiscal year which happened to be in two to three months! Being flexible and nimble, we kicked into high gear looking for housing in North SLO County, a significant pocket of need.

Our friend, Scott Taylor of Keller Williams Real Estate, quickly located several properties for us to consider. Remarkably, Scott found two small apartment units on contiguous lots for sale in Atascadero, both being sold by the owners. The units needed some work, but were well within our price range, and would leave us with funds to do remodeling and repair work. The units were put into escrow, we began processing the paperwork with the County, obtained County Board approval for the project, and, by June 5, 2015, the properties were ours. We now had nine additional homes to provide homeless families! On July 1st, we began the remodel process, and by September we were placing families in their new homes!

One afternoon on my way home, I stopped by one of the complexes to check out one of the newly remodeled apartments. I was greeted by program and facilities staff, and was delighted to see they were already moving a family with two young children into the apartment. When I introduced myself to the couple, they both embraced me, and with tears in his eyes, the husband thanked me over and over for helping them find a home. Even their children thanked me as they took me to see their new room. This is the heart of the Family Care Network–seeing our mission fulfilled in experiences just like this!

The HSP program was put out to bid and FCNI was successful in being awarded that contract in 2015. Since then, we have successfully placed over 100 families!

In our Year 28, we also made several other key decisions and implemented important changes in practice. Due to the rigorous requirements for accreditation, state licensing and medical records, we improved our Total Quality Management and internal auditing procedures. In an effort to create new community partnerships and relationships, we began providing “Meet & Greet” beverage and hors d’oeuvre receptions, inviting people to hear more about Family Care Network, tour our building, and talk to our staff and even some clients. We also made “Staff Wellness” a major theme, and built a Wellness Garden on the front of the property for staff to enjoy. And finally, the Board of Directors made a commitment to begin establishing the Family Care Network Foundation and a full-scale Development Department, with the goal of establishing an endowment to ensure our fiscal future.

Our Year 28 was one of tenaciously overcoming obstacles and moving the agency forward. Through 19 distinct programs we served 1420 children, youth and families with a remarkable 93% success rate. Throughout the year, we also had 565 volunteers donate 12,594 hours as community partners in fulfilling our mission.