Academic journal article Child Welfare

Privatized Child Welfare Services: Foster Parents' Perspectives

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Privatized Child Welfare Services: Foster Parents' Perspectives

Article excerpt

This study reports on the impressions of foster parents following the privatization of family foster care services in Kansas. A randomly selected sample of foster parents from one agency was surveyed to assess their current level of satisfaction, their opinions about privatization, and their experiences with newly established community-based treatment teams. Although overall satisfaction has remained high, opinions vary about specific aspects of foster parenting under managed care. Implications for supporting and enhancing the role of foster parents are discussed.

In late 1996, Kansas privatized many of the child welfare services and programs previously provided by the state child welfare agency During the course of the following vear, the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS), previously the public provider of child welfare services, contracted with private organizations to provide family preservation, adoption, and family foster care services. The state was divided into geographic regions and private agencies were invited to submit proposals under a competitive process. Under a managed care approach, each contracting agency received a capitated amount per child and was charged with achieving outcome goals set forth in each contract. The case rate for family foster care ranged from $12,860 to $15,504. SRS continued to conduct the protective service investigations through which children and families entered the newly privatized system, and maintained responsibility for monitoring the achievement of outcome goals set forth in contracts with the private providers.

This study analyzed the experiences of foster parents in one contract agency a little more than a year after the initial contract for privatization of family foster care began in March 1997. The study documented how foster parents experienced a major transition in the way that family foster care services were organized and provided.

Privatization represented a major transition for foster parents. Because the state agency with which many foster parents had previously worked would no longer be directly providing services, foster parents wishing to continue in their role had to become foster parents under the auspices of the contracting private agency. This move required adjustment to new relationships and responsibilities as well as adjustment to the culture and procedures of a new agency.

In addition, a managed care approach and contractual expectations for timely movement toward family reunification or some other form of permanency placed new pressures on foster parents and their relationship with other members of the foster care team. The state agency (SRS) set goals to return at least 40% of children in out-of-home care to their home or to a new permanent home within six months and to have 65% of the children achieve permanency within a year of entering care.

In the agency where data for this study were collected, family foster care services are planned, delivered, and monitored through community-based treatment teams whose membership is interdisciplinary and includes social work case managers, clinicians, family support workers, and foster care workers, as well as foster parents. When possible, the child's birthparents also become members of the team. Little literature exists about community-based child welfare teams such as these. Similar treatment and support teams, however, have been used in other settings to deliver community-based services to people with persistent and long-term mental illness. The goal of such an arrangement is to provide community-based intensive services that are family- and child-centered and that bring about changes to quickly reunite children with their families or move them toward some other form of permanency. The managed care framework provides incentives to meet this goal by using family foster care services whenever appropriate, rather than higher cost residential services. …

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