- Posted by Famcare
- On February 14, 2017
- 0 Comments
For six years now, the Family Care Network had been serving the Eastern Sierra’s with an office in Bishop and another in Ridgecrest. Foster parent recruitment was certainly challenging in these isolated, rural communities, but we found families and we had excellent outcomes. Unfortunately, the situation in this region changed abruptly. First, was the tragic, untimely death of Rita Smith, the woman running our Ridgecrest program. Rita was a very gifted, clinical psychologist who worked well with our foster youth, families and County partners, she also provided a thriving outpatient counseling service. Though only in her early 40s, she suffered a sudden heart attack. Second, our longtime Regional Director, Vince Giordano, decided to go back to school in Oklahoma.
Losing key staff is always challenging, but more so in a geographic region where it was near impossible to recruit the qualified staff we required. After a short period of unsuccessful recruitment, I made the decision to close down our Eastern Sierra operations, and focus our attention on the Central Coast. Were we able to work with our County Social Services partners to successfully transition our families and children to the three counties we served.
During this time, San Luis Obispo County was having a serious problem with runaway youth, most of them local, who were ending up in local emergency shelter group homes. This caused a critical shortage of bed space for children and youth taken into protective custody because they could not mix the two populations together. Through our new, expanded collaborative partnerships, this issue was discussed and I offered to apply for grant funds from the Office of Criminal Justice Prevention to create a solution. Having done so numerous times in my probation days, I applied and succeeded in obtaining a three year grant. Thus, the Family Intervention Project (FIP) was born.
FIP was a counseling program which intervened immediately when a runaway youth was placed in the shelter program, providing individual and family counseling in order reunify the youth with family as soon as possible, or move the child into foster care if more time was needed for reunification services or permanency placement. Our first therapist was Jon Nibbio, who had previously worked for our local Department of Social Services and then at a children’s mental health hospital located in Bakersfield. The Probation Department was so impressed with Jon’s work that they stole him from us! Fortunately, he came to his senses and returned to FCNI in 2000, where he now serves as our Clinical Director and Chief Operations Officer.
The Family Intervention Project was incredibly successful, so successful that the number of contracted shelter beds was cut in half. The Probation Department had been filing 80+ petitions a year in Juvenile Court on “Status Offenders” (i.e., runaway or incorrigible youth). After the first year, these filings virtually stopped. FIP exemplified the heart of our organization – keep kids in families, preferably their own, providing supports and services to enable them to be self-sufficient and not dependent on the “system.”
FIP also proved to be an incredible example of the Children’s Services Network collaborative process. The problem of runaways and overcrowded shelters emerged under CSN, allowing us to partner with Probation and Social Services to initiate and maintain the program. After the three year grant funding expired, the state agreed to fund it for an additional year due to the program’s success. After that, Social Services agreed to pick it up for several years followed by the County Mental Health Department. Finally, in 2001 the Probation Department was able to secure funding and the program was re-branded to “Intensive Community Diversion.” This service continued until 2009/2010 when it was determined that other new programs, (i.e., Wraparound Services), could meet this important need. This very successful collaboration served 2,152 youth, over 17 years, with 95% success rate – youth and parent relationships were improved and families were preserved.
Another important collaboration occurred this year – we collaborated with our foster parents to further develop and enhance our foster parent support system. We established “regional” Foster Parent Partners to help facilitate support groups, but more importantly, to mentor new foster families. Every new foster parent was assigned a seasoned mentor to help them learn the ropes and navigate the system. We paid our Parent Partners an additional amount each month to provide this service. We soon discovered that our Parent Partners became another excellent resource in helping our new foster families manage crises and challenges. This program also helped elevate the overall level of competency and consistency across our network of foster families. This service remained in place informally for a number of years, until we were able to secure funding to establish and make the Family Partner an official program.
It was also during this time frame that we were able to really build out our use of AmeriCorps workers. At its peak, we had six to seven AmeriCorps workers serving as assistance to our Social Workers and foster families. It was a win-win for everyone. Our services were enhanced and the AmeriCorps staff earned a very nice grant to continue their education. Several of these individuals later returned to FCNI as full-time employees.
By the end of this year, the Family Care Network continued to produce excellent outcomes in our therapeutic foster care program and build respect for our model from our County partners. The Family Intervention Project had a stellar beginning, serving 75 youth with a 95% success rate. We ended the year serving 272 youth and families with an aggregate 91% success rate.
In response to the need Family Intervention Project was created. Jon Nibbio was hired to be the therapist for the program.