California’s Continuum of Care Reform

An Opportunity for True Reform
Jim Roberts
March, 23, 2015 -

In the summer of 2012, the State Legislature enacted SB 1013 which mandated the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) to launch a broad-based, stakeholder process to determine how to reform California’s foster care system by creating a “continuum of programs and services that promote positive outcomes for children and families”, and provide a comprehensive recommendation to the Legislature by the end of 2014. Thus, began an intense two and half year process in which I was honored to be a participant. In January of this year, CDSS released its report and recommendations to the Legislature.

I need to say right up front—this was a monumental task and CDSS Director, Will Lightbourne, and his top staff are to be commended for a job very well done. The report contains 19 Recommendations which, if fully implemented, will not only positively reform California’s foster care system, but clearly position California as an innovative national leader in effectively serving children and youth impacted by trauma.

The Continuum of Care Reform (CCR) Plan is truly transformative; proposing a seamless continuum of programs and services focusing upon and driven by the needs of the children and youth being served while creating the best, quickest path to legal and emotional permanency. Let me highlight the essential components of this landmark plan and indicate what I believe are the critical next steps.

First, CCR will establish a “Core Practice Model” to govern all services, albeit delivered by a county or licensed provider, creating consistency and continuity the state has never heretofore experienced.

Second, the Core Practice Model requires that service delivery is orchestrated through a Child and Family Team process. No more unilateral, expedient decision-making.

Third, all services and placement decisions will be based on a comprehensive, trauma-informed Assessment Process. The needs of the child or youth will determine services and placement; not costs, available space, social worker or probation officer preferences, et cetera. Hopefully this will eliminate the current “fail-up” system.

Fourth, the CCR plan will shift the nomenclature surrounding foster care to emphasize “Resource Families” and “home-based family care.” “These families are inclusive of related or unrelated families that are approved to foster, adopt or take guardianship of children in foster care, regardless of whether they are approved by a public or private agency.” It will remove the barriers for serving children/youth in licensed, certified, adoptive, kinship and non-related extended family member (NREFM) families; which emphasizes finding the best home-based placement to meet the child/youth’s needs.

Fifth, medically necessary mental health services must be made available to children and youth in foster care regardless of the placement setting. No longer will the child/youth need to be placed in a certain type of program in order to receive these necessary services.

The proposed Core Practice Model will basically operate as follows: 1) A Child/Family Team (CFT) will conduct an assessment to determine what services are necessary for the child/youth to achieve safety, permanency and wellbeing; 2) The CFT will create a plan which “hinges” on three determinations: (a) which is the least restrictive, most appropriate family-based or placement setting, (b) what are the Services and Supports necessary to achieve legal or emotional permanency, and (c) what are the Treatments and Therapies (mental health services) necessary for the child/youth to achieve wellbeing; and 3) Service providers will be held accountable through performance data.

This innovative and unique proposal will establish an entirely new way to serve foster children and youth. They will not be “placed in a program” to receive the services they need; services will come to them. Placement within an approved family setting is the first priority, only using a residential care placement when it is absolutely necessary and only as a short term intervention. Agencies like mine that provide FFA services, would be able to serve children/youth in any family setting, not just our certified homes. Fragmented, siloed services delivery will be eliminated or substantially minimized when qualified providers can provide “whatever it takes” to meet client needs.

Of course, there is considerable more to know about the CCR Recommendations which can be viewed at: It will certainly be worth your time to peruse this 56 page document.

CCR is a wonderful opportunity to transform California’s foster care system – let’s make sure it doesn’t turn into a missed opportunity! Here are my thoughts for promoting its success.

  • CCR Legislation, AB 403, has been introduced. Thus, there is an urgent need for broad support from counties, providers, consumers and the advocacy community. Each of us needs to leverage our relationships towards its passage.
  • Given the extensive amount of input and thought that went into creating this proposal, it is imperative that it moves through the legislative process, not only quickly, but unadulterated! We cannot allow “special interest” groups to alter this plan or attempt to maintain the status quo.
  • Based on my information, CCR legislation will create a framework and timeline for implementation, allowing for considerable detail to be subsequently developed. Stakeholder involvement in developing these details needs to be broad-based, and even more engaged than in the plan development process.
  • Ensuring that foster children and youth have full access to mental health services is a critical part of CCR, and equally as challenging. The CCR plan calls for the full integration of “Treatment and Therapies.” We need to once and for all eliminate the system that has deprived children of these services and produced multiple lawsuits!
  • CCR needs to be appropriately funded. As the plan states, there needs to be a substantial up-front investment in order to gain long-term fiscal benefit. It’s time to supplant “cost neutrality” thinking with a “cost-benefit” perspective.

Let us not forget, we’re talking about the most vulnerable children and youth whose lives have been impacted by trauma as a result of Adverse Childhood Experiences. These children and youth deserve the best we can give them – so let’s give them the most effective and innovative foster care system in the United States!