Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System: Lucas County Ohio Community Development Department . 3. Conclusion


Central to Lucas County Children Services reunification process is the quantity of intensive services that its parent educators and community advocates provide in families' homes. Depending on the course that a case takes, it is possible for a family to receive at-home services from a parent educator at least once a week for 15 weeks, then from a community advocate for another 6 to 10 weeks. The primary focus of these services is to help parents increase their parenting and family management skills to a level that will allow them to prevent the need for placement or regain custody of their children. In addition to teaching these skills, CDD workers help parents obtain housing and furniture, assist them with household management and repairs, and link families to ongoing community services. These services help get parents on their feet and stabilize the reunified family. In the process of providing services in the home, workers have many opportunities to observe parent-child interactions and assess family functioning. To the extent that frequent observations provide higher quality information about parents' progress, these intensive home-based services may contribute to better case decisionmaking.

Perhaps one of the most novel aspects of Lucas County Children Services community-based model is the way that it has arranged for its workers to deliver services to families in community settings. Prior to adopting Family to Family, Children Services, like most public child welfare agencies, had contracted with private community agencies for many of the services that were provided to families. Children Services still relies on community agency staff to provide diagnostic services, therapy, and substance abuse treatment. However, LCCS's staff deliver parenting classes and family visitation services and only space is leased from the community centers. This arrangement allows Children Services to offer services to families in their own communities and still remain directly accountable for the services that their employees provide.

Across the country, many ways of including families in decision making are currently in use. Children's Services' team decision-making, however, is distinctive in its extensive inclusion of families in all crucial decisions that are made throughout the course of the case. Agency staff report that through frequent team meetings, they get to know the parents better, gain better information about the family, and as a result make better decisions. It has also been asserted that team-decision making improves the quality of case plans, increases parents' investment in the plan, reduces children's length of stay in foster care, and increases reunification rates.

Administrators and workers suggest that the model may influence the staff's perceptions and decisions regarding family reunification. As has already been mentioned, team decision-making and intensive home-based services allow agency staff to become better acquainted with families and provides them with direct access to information about the parents' perceptions, motivations, and functioning. In addition to greater access to this information, families' contacts with the agency's workers, day care providers, and contracted community centers allows the agency to better monitor children's safety. To the extent that staff have greater confidence that children's safety is adequately monitored, they may be more likely to proceed with reunification efforts earlier in a case and with families who have more complex difficulties.

This report has described the status of Lucas County's efforts to develop community-based child welfare services along the lines of the Family to Family model. The agency appears to have made substantial progress toward implementing components of the model over which it has the most control, such as the delivery of services by its own workers and contracted agencies, yet much remains to be done before the envisioned model is fully implemented. For example, the agency plans to develop a more comprehensive neighborhood-based system of care. These plans include securing foster parents and day care providers in the neighborhoods where most of the families served by the agency live. It is hoped that the provision of these services within families' neighborhoods will reduce the level of trauma that children may currently experience when they are removed from not only their parents' homes but also from their schools and communities.

In addition to these services, the agency works with community schools, churches, and citizens groups to identify ways that these organizations can contribute to the prevention of child abuse and neglect in their neighborhoods. The agency's efforts depend on the establishment of a comprehensive neighborhood-based system to both prevent abuse and neglect and to facilitate family reunification. Success may also depend upon the level of resources in communities that are available for the effort.