Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System: Lucas County Ohio Community Development Department . 2.1 Referral and Department Functions

12/01/2001

Families who receive services from CDD are referred from Children Services' Assessment or Family Services Departments and their cases are reviewed by the agency's Case Review Department. The relationship of these departments within Children Services is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1.
Lucas County Children Services' Referral, Planning, and Review Processes

Lucas County Children Services' Referral, Planning, and Review Processes

An overview of these Departments and their functions provides an understanding of how community-based services are provided within Lucas County Children Services.

Assessment Department. The Assessment Department, which investigates new cases and provides emergency services as needed, will refer a family to CDD for in-home services if minor or temporary problems have been identified that do not necessitate removing the child from the home. These families typically need only short-term concrete services such as household management or location assistance. Families with more complex difficulties whose children are removed from their care are referred to the Family Services Department and may also be referred to CDD.

Family Services Department. The Family Services Department is responsible for case planning and management and overseeing the provision of services for all ongoing cases. Once the Assessment Department has completed its investigation and opened a case, a family is assigned to 1 of 57 Family Services case managers. On average, case managers carry a caseload of 13.3 families.

After receiving an assignment, the case manager works with the family to develop a case plan. Development of the family's case plan is accomplished through team decision-making -- a practice that the agency has adopted to facilitate family participation in the decision process. Team decisionmaking is based on two key assumptions: first, that the family is often the proper unit for solving family problems and, second, that the extended family should be formally included in case decision-making. In general, case managers call for team meetings whenever placement, service, reunification, or other permanency decisions are to be made.

Aware that some parents could feel intimidated by the team meeting, the agency has taken several steps that are intended to increase families' comfort levels and encourage them to actively contribute to the planning process. In an effort to accommodate parents, whenever possible team meetings are held at neighborhood community centers instead of the agency's central office in downtown Toledo. Not only are the community centers more conveniently located, but it is hoped that the parents will feel that the centers provide a more neutral and friendly setting for the meeting. Furthermore, case managers encourage parents to invite their extended family, friends, and counselors and other professionals who will lend them support during the meeting.

In addition to the case manager, the parents, and their invited supporters, a facilitator from the Case Review Department attends team meetings. The facilitator's job is to ensure that all of the relevant case information is brought up for discussion and that every participant is given an opportunity to speak and ask questions. In addition to facilitating communication, the facilitator is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the meeting and respect for the parents' rights.

Once a case plan is developed, the case manager makes appropriate referrals for services that are not already in place. Families are usually referred to private agencies for counseling, diagnostic assessments, and substance abuse treatment. If reunification is expected to occur within a short time, the family is referred to CDD's Community Advocate Unit. Usually, parents first complete drug treatment, domestic violence counseling, and parenting classes before they are referred for intensive services from the Community Advocate.

Case Review. The Case Review Department is responsible for ensuring that all cases are reviewed within the timeframes that have been established by the court and the state. The standard procedure is to hold an administrative review at 4 months and again 10½ months after a case is opened. The administrative review examines the case plan to assess whether the parent has made progress, and if necessary, the plan and permanency goal are revised. For children in substitute care, the initial permanency goal is almost always to return home. The only exceptions to this general rule are families whose case histories strongly suggest profound parenting difficulties.

Aside from reviewing the case plan and services that each family has received, reports from workers providing services and other professionals such as therapists and substance abuse counselors are considered in assessing the family's progress toward achieving goals listed in the case plan. In addition to these reports, agency workers assess the risk to child safety whenever an administrative review or permanency hearing is scheduled. The risk assessment considers a variety of factors that affect the level of risk to the child -- the age of the child; the extent of emotional harm and physical injuries; the level of medical care; the ability of the family to provide basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter; and the adequacy of supervision. After all of the case information is reviewed, a permanency recommendation is made to the court.