Los Angeles County has hired a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit to help more relative caregivers through the foster care certification process as the county runs up against a looming state deadline.
On Tuesday, the county’s Board of Supervisors approved a $400,000 request to hire A Second Chance, Inc., to help the county get through a backlog of the families stuck in the resource family approval (RFA) process. Under the new terms of the state’s child welfare laws, all caregivers — including both foster parents and relative caregivers — must complete training, psychosocial evaluation, background checks and home inspections within 90 days of taking in an emergency placement of a foster child.
That timeline led to substantial delays in many California counties, with thousands of caregivers left without support as they wait to get through a lengthy approval process.
“We’ve seen placements fail, we’ve had caregivers say, ‘I can’t take care of these kids, I literally just don’t have the finances,’” said Susan Abrams, policy director at the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles, last December in The Chronicle of Social Change.
According to the county, it had 4,385 pending RFA applications, as of April 2018. About 36 percent, or 1,575, of those caregivers already have children placed in their homes.
About 69 percent of those caregivers — 1,080 of 1,575 caregivers — have been waiting to get through the approval process for longer than 90 days. For the 2,810 families who do not have children placed in their care, 81 percent have waited for 120 days or more to complete their application.
According to the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), 500 new RFA applications are received each month.L.A. County is hoping that A Second Chance can help streamline the process for prospective caregivers. The group, which was founded in 1994 by Sharon McDaniel, provides nearly all kinship placements for Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Department of Human Services. In recent years, it has also worked on kinship issues for child welfare agencies in New York City, Georgia and West Virginia, among others.
The county must complete the RFA backlog by September 1, thanks to a short-term spending plan approved by the California Governor Jerry Brown (D) in March. Ushered in as part of the state’s Continuum of Care Reform in 2017, the RFA process has been difficult to implement, and has caused counties to struggle to recruit and retain caregivers.
In April, the board signed off on a plan to hire 100 social workers to help out with the RFA process, but according to the county, delay in getting those staff trained has jeopardized DCFS’ ability to meet the state’s September 1 deadline. DCFS Director Bobby Cagle has vowed that hundreds of social workers will pitch in to make a dent in the backlog, starting with himself.
The agency will be helped out by A Second Chance, which will sign a short-term, public-private partnership contract through the county’s Center for Strategic Public-Private Partnerships.
According to A Second Chance’s Yakiciwey Mitchell, the organization will help simplify the RFA process in L.A. County, but it will also help move the system toward “gold standard” practices in working with relative caregivers.
At a May 21 meeting of the Los Angeles County Children’s Commission, Mitchell said that A Second Chance had saved Allegheny County $100 million during its time working with the agency. Creating a streamlined system would better serve families and children, she said.
“One of the things we hear, not just here in L.A. but also in other areas, is that when you have so many people touching the family representing child welfare, it’s confusing, it’s overwhelming,” Mitchell said. “Actually, over time, it slows the process down.”
This story was written by Jeremy Loudenback for The Chronicle of Social Change, a national news outlet that covers issues affecting vulnerable children, youth and their families. Sign up for their newsletter or follow The Chronicle of Social Change on Facebook or Twitter.