Prior to the start of the demonstration project, Luis Medina became executive director of St. Christopher-Jennie Clarkson. His vision was to create a family-centered approach to rebuild families, and that biological parents are the pillars of the family. He strongly believes that the HomeRebuilders model was an appropriate vehicle for his vision. During an interview he stated, "Parents remain parents even while their child is in foster care." Parents were strongly encouraged to be responsible for maintaining regular contact with the agency, being active participants in identifying the issues that needed to be addressed, and demonstrating through their actions that reunification was their goal. For example, to promote this interaction, staff wore beepers so that parents had 24 hour a day access to staff. Also, much emphasis was placed on ensuring that staff treated families respectfully and that services were delivered as promptly as possible. Foster care parents were asked to serve as mentors and friends to the biological parents. This concept was stressed during a mandatory 6 week course that individuals took to become foster parents. Also, when feasible, the agency worked closely with the extended families. Finally, after children were discharged, families were encouraged to maintain regular contact with the agency. The caseworkers stated that they called families at least every other month to find out how they were doing. They would stop calling only when the parents made that request.
From the initiation of HomeRebuilders, caseworkers played an integral role in developing the project. In preparation for implementing HomeRebuilders, caseworkers were systematically surveyed to identify up to three reasons each of the children on their caseloads was placed in foster care. Substance abuse, lack of parenting skills, and housing problems were the three main reasons for placement. This became the basis for developing new service initiatives that included hiring new staff, developing a family services unit, and restructuring the traditional hierarchy of service delivery. The agency hired a number of staff, including a housing and substance abuse specialist. In addition, extending the hours of service provision expanded parent training and parental visitation opportunities.
Previously, service delivery was based on caseworkers identifying the needs of the children on their caseloads and then obtaining services for children outside of the agency. With the onset of HomeRebuilders, a family service unit was developed which consisted of workers who could provide services directly to families. This unit allowed the caseworker's role to change from the traditional one of identifying problems and finding outside services to becoming part of a team. Still responsible for conducting the initial assessment of the family's problems and service needs, the caseworker now had a team of people who could directly provide needed services. This arrangement provided the opportunity for workers to consider family needs rather than individual child needs.
Checks and balances were implemented to ensure that families ready for discharge were receiving the services necessary to expedite the process. The program director reviewed the progress of all cases monthly. In particular she asked supervisors to identify anticipated discharges. Barriers to discharge were identified, and it became incumbent upon the family services unit to contact the appropriate worker to offer services to help resolve problems that were impeding reunification or adoption. In addition, caseworkers completed tracking forms for each case. These forms played an integral role in case decision-making and were perceived as part of the planning process.
In a follow-up interview with Jeremy Kohomban, Assistant Program Director, the agency's philosophy toward permanency was discussed. He stated that the philosophy of permanency was started before HomeRebuilders; the administration at St. Christopher-Jennie Clarkson already believed that the length of stay was too high. Because staff felt so strongly about the concept of HomeRebuilders, all of the children in the agency were in the demonstration. At the start of the program, 50 percent of the children in foster care had a permanency plan of adoption, a percentage that the agency believed was too high. The philosophy of the agency was that not more than 25 percent of children should be placed through adoption. Although adoption may be the easier route, the philosophy at St Christopher-Jennie Clarkson was that it should be used only in extreme cases. For example, adoption was used in cases where the parents were dying from AIDS, the children were truly abandoned, or where multiple children in one family could stay together through adoption but not otherwise. To achieve this reduction in adoptive placements, more training on life skills, stress management, and other issues that kept families apart was given to the parents and extended families. Through HomeRebuilders, some of the children with the placement goal of adoption returned to their biological families.
The HomeRebuilders model also had an effect on young adults at this agency. Instead of allowing them to age-out of the program, they were placed into independent living. The rationale for this strategy was to enhance the agency's ability to monitor these teenagers. If the caseworker believed they were having a difficult time, they were put back into foster care. Before HomeRebuilders, the young adults were not monitored, and consequently, some teenagers became homeless or went to jail. The use of independent living situations created a buffer because the caseworkers were instructed to monitor this population group.
ST. CHRISTOPHER-JENNIE CLARKSON
- Dobbs Ferry
The model is built on the premise that "parents remain parents even while their child is in foster care" and that staff must respect the parents in a culturally sensitive manner.
Major Changes Initiated During HomeRebuilders:
- Additional staff hired
- Specialized flexible funding
- In-home services
- Children under the age of 17 and no minimum time in care
- Permanency goal: return to home or adoption
- Type of placements used: foster boarding home or approved relative's home
- The entire agency was used as treatment site
Agency-Wide Programs During HomeRebuilders:
- Foster care and adoption
- Substance abuse counseling
- Mental health services
- Visiting nurses
- Spiritual life service
- Parenting skill programs
- Attorney services
- Housing services
- Employment services
- Food, travel, and clothing
- Entitlement support
- Medical clinics
- Mentoring programs
- Family day care
- Teen residential program
- Teen community group home
- Nonsecured detention services
- Volunteer services
- Family Support & In-home Services Program