I have been working in the Human Services field in California for over 45 years, and I have to say, innovative, efficacious programs development by the State have been for the most part nonexistent. Seriously. Almost every important program for children and youth has been the result of litigation or the force of advocacy from the private sector. Even California’s new CCR-Foster Care Reform effort was birthed in response to a lost lawsuit.
But, thanks to organizations like the John Burton Foundation, the California Alliance of Child & Family Services, the Youth Law Center and National Center for Youth Law, the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the California Youth Connection, and a host of other advocacy groups, California has quite a pallet of quality programs and initiatives to serve children, youth and families with very challenging needs and issues.
One of the most valuable and effective programs ever implemented in California is Senate Bill 163–Wraparound Services! This month, Wraparound will be celebrating its 20th year of transforming the lives of children, youth and families, but also transforming the systems in which services are delivered. The advent of Wraparound is a great story, and the Family Care Network was honored to have been one of its “early implementers.”
Uplift Family Services (formerly EMQ Family Services) is the organization responsible for introducing Wraparound in California. In the early 1990s, EMQ was one of the largest high-level group home providers in California, with well over 100 youth placed within their facilities. Their CEO, Jerry Doyle (now retired), and key staff struggled with the fact that group home outcomes were not very good and that the process of reintegrating foster youth into their families and community was not particularly effective. In their quest to find solutions, EMQ discovered how effective Wraparound Services was as an alternative to group home care within some major jurisdictions on the East Coast.
In 1994, empowered by their new knowledge about Wraparound, EMQ embarked on a bold, complicated and fiscally risky endeavor to move as many as 100 foster youth from institutions back to their families. EMQ was able to forge new working relationships with Santa Clara County Social Services, Mental Health and Probation, as well as enact special legislation to make this possible. Thus, began one of the most significant, positive transformations of California’s Children’s System of Care and Foster Care services! Because of their enormous success, Senate Bill 163 was passed in 1997, opening the door for every county to participate in providing Wraparound.
One of the values of participating in a “Member” organization is meeting new peers and learning about new practices “ahead of the pack”--and this was our experience with Wraparound. When I learned what was taking place at EMQ, I asked Jerry if a few staff from the Family Care Network and Social Services could participate in their training. His answer was yes, and San Luis Obispo County was on its way to reaping the benefits for children, youth and families through Wraparound! Prior to the enactment of SB 163, the Family Care Network had collaborated with Social Services to create the “WISH” Program (Wraparound Intensive Services in-Home), the prototype of “Familia de Novo” (reconstructed/renewed family), the County’s official SB 163 Wraparound Program.
So, what makes Wraparound so wonderfully unique and effective? Wraparound shifts focus away from a traditional service-driven, problem-based approach to care and treatment, and instead follows a team-driven, strengths-based, solution-focused needs-driven approach. The intent of this shift is to build on individual and family strengths to help families achieve positive goals and improve wellbeing. The team develops a service plan that describes specific strategies for meeting the needs identified by the family. Service Plans become individualized with strategies that reflect the child and family's culture and preferences. Wraparound is designed to:
- Keep kids in their families and communities, and maintain all their essential connections;]
- Enhance success by creating a strength-based intervention plan with a child and family team;
- Empower youth and parent involvement by giving them “voice, choice and preference”;
- Use community-based services;
- Create independence and stability – eliminating the need for public assistance and support;
- Provide services that fit a child and family's identified needs, culture and preferences;
- Create one plan to coordinate responses in all life domains; and
- Focus on achieving positive goals.
Wraparound is absolutely the “Best Practice” for serving foster youth with challenging behaviors while strengthening and empowering families to care for their own! Plus, it really works!
It took several years for the state to develop standards and an implementation process, but once that was complete, San Luis Obispo County was first in line to submit a comprehensive plan and receive state approval. Another great piece of the story is how the County’s Wraparound plan was developed. Even though we understood and were already applying the principles of Wraparound, the state required a documented “stakeholder” process. So, the County Children’s Services Network Council (CSN) launched a workgroup under its umbrella--and this was a wonderful process. I was able to get Dr. Richard Clark from EMQ to get us started and consult on the way. The group spent about a year crafting strategies, goals, outcomes, budgets and a unique public-private partnership. When this process was finished, I was handed the task of writing the Wraparound Plan, which was soon approved by the County Board and the state. One of the best outcomes of this effort was the commitment, not only to the Wraparound Program, but also to adopting Wraparound Principles and Philosophy universally throughout the local Children’s System of Care. Wraparound transformed San Luis Obispo County into a state recognized model of collaboration, innovation and success!
Looking back on these many years of providing Wraparound in San Luis Obispo County, there is one word to describe it – INCREDIBLE! The positive impact of this program has far exceeded anyone’s expectations. Working with our amazing County Partners, the Family Care Network has provided services to 1725 families with a 95% success rate! Remember, these are the highest needs, most challenging youth and families within our system; foster youth who were either destined for or returned from high-level institutional care.
Familia de Novo – Wraparound has provided counseling and intensive services and supports; restored families; prevented group home placements; provided housing, transportation, goods and services; and has established community connections to support self-sufficiency and independence from the “system.” Wraparound transformed our local Children’s System of Care – but more importantly, it has transformed the lives of hundreds of Foster youth and families! Since Wraparound was implemented, along with Therapeutic Foster Care and Therapeutic Behavioral Services, group home placements in San Luis Obispo County have been reduced by 75% of pre-Wraparound placement numbers. This outcome is truly INCREDIBLE!
San Luis Obispo County has much to celebrate with the advent of Wraparound Services 20 years ago. Changed lives, changed systems and recognition for providing one of the most successful Wraparound Programs in California!