Evaluation of the New York City Home Rebuilders Demonstration. 2.5.8 Discharge Planning

09/14/1998

The HomeRebuilders program guidelines allowed a mix of services to achieve permanency, including counseling, day care, homemakers, or any other service needed to stabilize the family immediately before or after reunification. In short, agencies were given greater flexibility concerning how money that would otherwise be used to purchase space in the foster care system was spent on services to the family.

Each agency was allowed to design its own discharge planning and aftercare program. However, all of the programs were required to contain certain elements. For example, families were required to actively participate with the provider to plan discharge and coordinate post-discharge services. In general, the agencies followed the guidelines prescribed in city and state rules and regulations regarding case management. Family readiness was evaluated (see each agency's description below) and when the timing was appropriate, the family met with the caseworker, the CWA worker, and other staff members such as supervisors and other support staff to write a discharge plan. Families progressed from weekend visits to extended visits. The final discharge was usually preceded by a trial discharge period of up to 3 months. The case would close at this point, depending on whether other children were still in foster care or if contracted or court-ordered in-home services were still being provided to the family.

Miracle Makers stated it enhanced the HomeRebuilders program with guidelines from the HomeBuilders family preservation model. The agency followed the guidelines very closely and believed that this aided in the reunification of families. These guidelines included more "hands on" management with the parents. For example, workers would go into the homes of the parents and determine if there was a need for cleaning or budgeting skills. In the process, the caseworkers would wash dishes, help paint a room, show parents how to do laundry, assist parents with budgetary matters, and teach them how to shop more cost-effectively. The administrator stated that the process reduced the return to care rate in the experimental group to approximately 2 percent and believed that the rate was higher in the control group.

A St. Christopher­Ottilie administrator stated that there was no difference in guidelines for discharge planning for the experimental and comparison groups. As reported in Chapter 3, this agency's comparison group actually had more case closings during the first two years, but by the end of the experiment, proportions of closings were similar. The administrator attributed the difference that was found in the first year to the fact that the comparison group families remained with the same caseworkers, while the experimental group was assigned new caseworkers specifically for the project.

A St. Christopher­Jennie Clarkson administrator stated that family readiness for reunification was determined by the level and quality of involvement exhibited by the families. The agency held readiness classes and gave the following example to describe how it measured readiness. "If a family showed up to the Saturday family days that was step one. If they showed up on the Saturdays in between family days, we took it as a sign that they were more interested. If they showed up with food for their child it meant even more." Before a child was returned to the parent, a discharge plan was made. Part of the plan included an "ABC Plan" with A representing a plan for everything working out well; B, the parent relapses; and C, the parent relapses and returns to an abusive partner. Scenarios for all the plans were worked out ahead of time with the parent. The administrator acknowledged a degree of risk in this alternative planning but valued reunification as worth taking a certain amount of risk.

An administrator from Little Flower stated that during HomeRebuilders good case planning took place. As at all of the agencies, the staff considered the safety of the child first. During the case conference, they reviewed the reasons for initial placement and ensured that those issues were no longer barriers for reunification. Then outcome statements were written. Since HomeRebuilders ended, this level of case planning is no longer occurring.

A New York Foundling administrator reported that specific guidelines on case closing were not developed. Case reviews were initiated on an as-needed basis, and parenting skills and readiness to reunite were evaluated on an individual basis. Case reviews were conducted monthly and attended by the program director, supervisor, caseworker, and any specialist involved in the case.

Harlem Dowling also stated that families were assessed for their ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment. The guidelines were the same for the experimental and control group; however, they were followed more intensely for the experimental group. In general, bonds with the foster care workers were stronger, and there was more teaching and modeling for the families in the experimental group. While working with the families, administrators said that caseworkers were informally measuring progress. Also, the staff evaluated families' linkages to family and community supports, their progress in addressing problems such as substance and alcohol abuse, the interactions between the parent and child, and the child's progress in school. During the first 2 years of the program, children in aftercare were closely followed. However, during the third year almost no aftercare took place.

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