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December 7, 2016

Preparing for Change: Orange County’s Child Welfare

Mike Ryan, Director, Orange County Social Services Agency

As you may know, 2016 has been a year of significant change and transition for child welfare across California. In discussing change, it is always important to keep perspective, recognize where we are today, and how far we’ve come. Last year in Orange County, our Child Abuse Registry received a monthly average of 4,000 reports, an increase over prior years. Superficially, this number can be alarming, but the good news is that the community is watching our children and reporting concerns if they have them. Of these calls, only about 100 of these cases per month require Juvenile Court involvement. The remaining cases either do not rise to the level of our involvement or we are able to address families’ needs through prevention efforts in the community.

The positive effects of these preventative efforts indicate that the number of children entering the child welfare system as dependents is significantly decreasing. In 2015, of the 42,670 calls to the Child Abuse Registry, only 1,167 children entered the dependency system. And, with the continued focus on Family-To-Family efforts, we have reduced our population of youth in group home care down to less than 80, when a decade ago we were close to 1,000.

This figure is critical when discussing the significant changes taking place, as the Child Welfare Continuum of Care Reform (CCR) is designed to eliminate group home placements and increase utilization of home-based care for foster youth. To continue serving youth, group home partners must transition to a new type of facility called a Short-Term Residential Treatment Program (STRTP), which will be required to meet new operational standards and requirements. Additionally, as part of CCR, all counties in California are required to utilize the Resource Family Approval (RFA) process starting in 2017. Orange County opted into RFA as an early implementer beginning February 2016.

The intent of RFA is to improve the overall quality of resource homes and, ultimately, the number of participating homes within our community. Under RFA, all caregivers and prospective caregivers for children are evaluated in the same way, have access to the same support and Agency sponsored resources, and are required to attain the same yearly approval standards. Social Services Agency (SSA) staff have been working tirelessly toward streamlining this process and addressing the increased demand for timely assessments, training, and support for all of SSA’s resource families. SSA’s RFA implementation has had significant agency-wide impacts, with the increased demand for contracts for training and support services for families, emergency funding for caregivers at the time of a child’s placement, analysis and implementation of new regulations, and the increased need for marketing and recruitment strategies for Resource Families.

The successful implementation of CCR continues to require a united effort not only throughout our Agency, but also throughout our community. It is imperative that supports are in place in the community; as such, significant efforts are also underway to enhance recruitment for resource families who are willing and able to care for our dependent children, specifically specialized/high needs youth. As we glance into the year ahead, it is no surprise that there is still much work to do. However, with the continued collaboration with our community partners and the support from our community, we know that our implementation of these changes will be successful and ultimately help to ensure that every child in Orange County has a loving home.

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