A Few Steps Forward

RFA Hopes and Challenges
by
Jim Roberts, CEO
August, 30, 2016 -

It goes without saying, there is a very pronounced distrust of--and for some, a profound distaste for--government bureaucracy. I totally understand these feelings, even though I do think it is grossly exaggerated by those who live on the fringe who hate government period. The reality is, every large organization, be it private-sector or governmental, is supported by an unwieldy bureaucratic structure; it’s the nature of the beast. Initiating change within a monstrous bureaucracy of any type is epic, however, I think government tops the charts for slowness, inflexibility and a lack of innovation.

This point has certainly been the case with California’s foster care system. Sure, sure, we are in the midst of monumental change under the Continuum of Care Reform (CCR), AB 403 process, but it took years to get here and it will take many more years to get it fully right–and this is being a little optimistic I think!

Running on a parallel track to CCR is the Resource Family Approval (RFA) program. The development of RFA started a full 10 years before the program is set to be implemented in January 2017, completely exemplifying the government’s snail-pace process. But regardless, RFA is still an important step in the right direction.

For decades--maybe forever--California has operated under a horrible, ineffective system for approving individuals or families to become foster parents, adoptive parents or temporary care givers. If you became licensed/certified as a foster parent and then decide to adopt, the state dictates that you have to start the entire vetting process all over again. The is also true for relative placements. If a child goes to live with Aunt Mildred, there is a certain type of clearance requirement. And if Aunt Mildred wants to then adopt this relative, she would be subjected to yet another “under the microscope” scrutiny.

Further complicating this situation is extraordinary fragmentation and duplication. Private Foster Family Agencies (FFAs), such as the Family Care Network, don’t “license” foster families, we “certify” them as meeting licensing standards. County and State foster families are “licensed”, even though we all use the same licensing regulations! FFAs are not allowed to see criminal record information, but counties and private adoption agencies are. For an agency like mine, which runs both a licensed foster care and adoption program, a family’s criminal record clearance to be a foster parent cannot be used to become an adoptive parent for the very same child they’re fostering and now want to adopt! Talk about bureaucratic nonsense and inefficiency!

But, there is hope, at least theoretically, under the Resource Family Approval process. It’s really a great, no-brainer concept: someone interested in becoming a “Resource Family” goes through a single process which qualifies them for “all of the above” care giving. After undergoing this process, they become “Approved” to provide foster care, adoption, guardianship or relative/kin care. There will actually be uniform standards governing everything, including: applications, assessments, home studies, facility requirements and qualifications for the folks doing this work. Imagine that!

But, there is a caveat or two accompanying this change. First, new nomenclature: Foster Parent/Family has been replaced with Resource Family. This new name may not sound like a big deal, but think about it. If you asked somebody what a “foster parent” is, chances are they will know the answer. But if you ask somebody what a “Resource Family” is, it will mostly likely invoke a deer in the headlights moment for them, eliciting an “I don’t know” response. I certainly understand the concept behind re-branding the role to Resource Family, and that “foster parent/foster care” now, maybe more than ever, connotes some degree of negativity thanks to a lot of bad press. But in California, Foster parent recruitment has been extremely difficult, and re-branding this role will only add to recruitment challenges which will require a lot of public education.

Second, RFA has only been piloted by counties, not FFAs, thus, we have some much uncharted territories to navigate. So, now comes “Pilot Project #2!” California has selected five currently licensed Foster Family Agencies from across the state to test the new procedures and provide feedback on what works and what doesn’t, and give recommendations for improvements. The Family Care Network has been selected as one of these five pilot agencies and will begin implementing the Resource Family Approval process in September. We were selected in large part because San Luis Obispo County was the first pilot county selected by the state and we have been involved in RFA development for several years.

There is a desperate need for Resource Families in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. There are so many obstacles and challenges to meeting this important community need, hopefully the Resource Family Approval process will take us a few steps closer in making it easier for individuals and families to help children and youth on their paths to future success!