The Redlich Horwitz Foundation’s four priorities drive its work to improve the child welfare system by expediting permanency, reducing residential care, supporting caregivers and strengthening prevention.
RHF believes that the most critical priority for children in foster care is timely transition to a permanent and loving family. Foster care should never be seen as a long-term solution: in order to thrive, children need supportive adults who love them unconditionally and whom they can depend on for their lifetimes. We believe that efforts which lead to reunification, adoption, or guardianship are best for children in care.
Spurred on by federal data showing poor performance on critical measures of permanency, New York now is focused on improving permanency outcomes for children across the State. The 2016 federal review ranks New York 50th and 48th in the country on federal measures for timeliness and rates of permanency for children in care for more than a year. Further, OCFS MAPS data show that over 1700 older youth in foster care have a permanency goal of APPLA (Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement) and thus are destined to age out without a permanent family. The State and counties recognize that they can and must do better for our most vulnerable children and families and have embarked upon comprehensive reform efforts.
In partnership with their provider agencies and the courts, state and local government agencies have invested in thoughtful, data-driven improvement plans. The Foundation is pleased to work with OCFS, ACS, county departments of social services, and provider agencies to accelerate improvements in business process, policy and practice so that all children in NY foster care can achieve timely and meaningful permanency.
Reduce Residential Placement
A permanency-focused foster care system is family-centered; it is structured and funded in a way that promotes placing a child entering care with a relative or close family friend (such as a godparent). If no such resource is available, the next best choice is a well-trained and well-supported foster family. Only in rare situations—for example when the child is a risk to themselves and/or to others—should short-term residential treatment be recommended. Realigning the State’s resources and policies to focus on family-based care is best for children, families, and taxpayers.
Unfortunately, New York has grown dependent on an excessive use of higher cost and, at times, prolonged residential care instead of prioritizing family-based, kinship, and foster-family placements. In many cases, children are placed in residential care either because kin have not been identified or because foster-family capacity has not been developed in the particular jurisdiction. In fact, counties outside of NYC on average place 26% of children in residential care compared to the national average of 13%. If the State did not include NYC, New York would have the fifth highest percentage of residential placements nationally.
The 2018 federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) prioritizes preventive services and family-based foster care over residential care by limiting reimbursements for residential placements based on length of stay and therapeutic need. RHF’s Family First Readiness Initiative is working in partnership with the state’s Transition Fund to provide technical assistance to 19 counties to prioritize kin-first placement policies and practices, and reducing residential placements to the national average of 12%. RHF is also supporting provider agencies as they work to provide more services to families and children in the community and the home rather than on residential campuses.
Support Excellent Caregivers
There is widespread agreement in the child welfare field that children in foster care should be with loving and nurturing families to achieve strong permanency and well-being outcomes. Whenever possible, this family should include kin – a relative or other adult that knows the child well, such as family friends, neighbors, or godparents. Federal and state laws indicate a strong preference for kinship care, and research confirms that children do best in placements with someone they know and trust. In fact, 30% of children in foster care across the country live with kin families, and some jurisdictions far surpass that number.
When kin are not available to step in, children need excellent foster parents who are well-prepared to address traumatic experiences and committed to helping them return to their parents. A high-functioning foster care system is structured and funded in a way that strives to make the first placement one with kin and to recruit, develop, and support the best possible foster parents for children who cannot safely live with their parents.
The Redlich Horwitz Foundation supports efforts in recruiting excellent foster parents.
Prevent Unnecessary Removals
Too often, families become involved in the child welfare system not due to abuse or neglect, but because of poverty and lack of community supports. Families come to the attention of child welfare when they are experiencing unstable housing, domestic violence, substance use or mental health treatment needs, or lack of concrete resources.
RHF is committed to supporting community-based prevention efforts that cultivate thriving families and communities. We support the use of services that preclude child welfare system involvement, as well as those that prevent removal, disruption and step-ups. By providing families with the concrete and therapeutic supports they need, families can stay safely together or more quickly reunite if they have been separated.