There were two pieces of legislation that emerged in the 1990s which radically transformed the Human Services field within both the public and private sectors: SB 933 which implemented “Best Practices” and included some restrictions on group home placements, and SB 163 the state’s official “Wraparound” Program. The Family Care Network not only benefitted from these initiatives, but became a leading advocate for “systems change” and “Transformation.” Like any change process, it took time. In our 19th year, it felt like this system change and transformation had fully arrived and matured.
Spearheaded by the Social Services Deputy Director, Debby Jeter, the Children’s Services Network and its partnering providers committed to adopt the new set of “Best Practices.” This buy-in by all of CSN was absolutely monumental. It is one thing to have an agency or two embrace a new practice model, let alone an entire system of care which included both public and private agencies.
The SB 933 Best Practices were simple, but profound. When an agency agreed to embrace these practices, it meant embedding these practices into their daily operations. The first step in this process was to become Family-Focused. This change required using a new filter when screening children and youth for placement to determine if there was a Family service or placement setting in which a child’s needs could be met. This new practice rocked the foundation of the tenured county workers who still believed “treatment only takes place in group homes.” However, it was this commitment to family-focused services which undergirded the reduction in group home placements by about 75% in just a few years. This change in approach also opened a huge door for the Family Care Network to develop programs designed to keep kids in families–preferably their own–in order to facilitate this transition!
The second Best Practice was to ensure that services were Community-Based. This approach meant doing whatever had to be done to keep a child/youth in their own community, attending their school, and maintaining friendships, family relationships and their natural community supports. The County’s SAFE multi-agency, one-stop-shop locations dovetailed perfectly with this practice, plus, there soon emerged a number of Family Resource Centers. Both private and public agencies were making sure that services were easily accessed in all of the major communities throughout the County. FCNI joined these efforts by out-stationing staff throughout the County to participate on these community-based teams.
Another fairly radical paradigm shift in Best Practices was that services needed to be Needs-Driven. While this practice doesn’t seem extreme, for the time it really was. For aeons, the practice had been “We are the experts who can tell you what you need.” The practice shift was to ask what the youth or family needed to become successful, which made a profound improvement in outcomes. For over 20 years now, the Family Care Network has embraced a Needs-Driven approach, providing clients Voice and Choice in case planning for their future.
The next “Transformative” Best Practice was to be Solution-Focused. Not only did FCNI take this practice to heart and make it an absolute rule for resolving issues, conflicts, et cetera, but so did our County and other community-based partners. It took a few years, but the days of bad-mouthing, finger-pointing and blaming other agencies or individuals greatly diminished. Instead, county partners embraced a genuine spirit of fixing problems and finding solutions that were acceptable to everyone. This change truly promoted effective collaboration, and I’m proud to say that FCNI was very involved in helping to bring about this vital shift in perspective.
The final Best Practice was to become Outcome-Based. Since our beginning, FCNI has always tracked our performance through predefined indicators in order to understand our efficacy and initiate improvements as needed. Now, by adopting this best practice, we were really able to help lead the charge towards creating universally shared outcomes within our local Children’s System of Care, and make sure that these were included in County contracts to ensure consistency and accountability.
Under the leadership of the Family Care Network, SB 163 Wraparound further transformed our local Children’s System of Care by embedding five additional “Essential Elements”: Child & Family Teams, Culturally Effective Services, Individualized Services, and Collaborative & Persistent Services. These elements became the “10 Essential Elements” of Wraparound, adopted by the agencies making up our Children’s System of Care, eventually becoming the foundation of our local practice model.
Another great outcome of our “transformation” process, was to become “Accredited.” We started the accreditation process at the end of 2004 and received our accreditation the first part of 2006. Becoming accredited truly raised our bar of excellence to the highest level.
In addition to becoming more involved with state-level advocacy through the California Alliance of Child & Family Services, I also decided it would be important for FCNI to become a member of the Foster Family-based Treatment Association (FFTA) which has now been rebranded to the Family Focused Treatment Association. FFTA is the largest membership organization in the United States which focuses solely on therapeutic Foster/family care. I immediately joined the FFTA Public Policy Committee, of which I currently serve as chairperson.
System Transformation is a process of time and commitment. The Family Care Network had now become fully engaged in improving the lives of children, youth and families through local, state and federal advocacy. It has always been my philosophy and practice to lead the change-transformation process instead of reacting to it. We’ve been privileged to work with such incredible local, state and national partners who have provided us multiple opportunities to help lead these important systems-improving initiatives.
Our year 19 also provided opportunities for new services. We began to provide mental health services with probation youth, school-based mental health services and we expanded our Transitional Age Youth housing program. By the end of the year, we had served 1,336 children, youth and families with an 86% success rate. FCNI averaged about 120 employees per month and had over 300 volunteers help us serve our community.