Capital Region Cares Capital Region Cares 2017-2018 - Page 108

n Feature F ifteen-year-old Austin Nichols* brushes the loose hair away from his eyes and adjusts his glasses be- fore recounting his foster care experience. A victim of chronic neglect, Nichols was eight when he and his two siblings were removed from their family and placed in separate group homes. The shy, quiet boy struggled to find his place. “One day I was living at home with my broth- ers, and the next, I was living with a bunch of strangers,” he says. “Nothing was familiar. It was very scary.” Nichols suf- fered from anxiety disorder and lashed out in frustration. His anger issues became a barrier for permanent placement with a family, and he declined in group care. He was shuttled between two more group homes in Sac- ramento County before a foster family took him in. That same family adopted him last year, six years after he was re- moved from his biological family’s home. “It took me a while to trust them” he says. “But now I know that they love me and accept me.” His younger brother was adopted by anoth- er family in 2014, but his older brother didn’t fare as well, spending time in four group homes and on probation be- fore being emancipated. He was arrested last year for felony larceny and is currently serving time in prison. “He had no support, no one to check up on him,” Nichols says. Current research from Princeton University and the Brookings Institute confirms what foster family agencies have found: Foster youth who live in congregate care set- tings (like group homes) are more likely than those who live with families to suffer a variety of negative outcomes, including low education levels, mental illness and involve- ment with the justice system. Placing foster youth in a stable and caring home is paramount, but finding the best way to do that has proved challenging. While agencies have long understood the importance of permanence — whether through reunification, kinship care, guardianship, long-term foster families or adoption — the child welfare system has been slow to respond. Now, sweeping changes introduced under Continuum of Care Re- form will impact the way foster youth are served. But the rigorous standards have some concerned about sacrificing resources in the short term to reach better outcomes in the long term. al commitment of a family. And so we will do any service and provide any support to ensure that a child has that safe- ty and well-being of a family.” Sierra Forever Families partners with a number of or- ganizations to provide comprehensive services, including independent living skills and a short-term residential ther- apeutic program with Children’s Receiving Home of Sacra- mento, and outpatient mental health and intensive treat- ment services with Stanford Youth Solutions. Sierra also implemented a program a decade ago called concurrent planning. Resource families (kinship, foster and adoptive families who have been trained to meet the imme- diate and permanency needs of children) working with Sier- ra are asked to take foster children early on to help reunite them with their biological families, and if that doesn’t work, then to consider adoption. “About 75 percent of our families are willing to do this,” Herne says. “Our families understand that reunification is just as successful as adoption.” A recent UC Davis survey supports this premise, find- ing that one of the strongest motivations for potential foster parents to open their homes is the chance to keep biological families together. Herne and his staff view their concurrent planning model as an opportunity to work at permanency as soon as a child enters the system. Rochelle Trochtenberg, a former foster youth and the state’s new foster care ombudsperson, was removed from her home at age 13 and placed in foster care in Los Angeles County. “I had some really great congregate care experienc- es with positive adult support and role models that are still in my life today,” she says, “but I also had the flip side where I had that low-quality experience, with staff who didn’t care and program administrators who weren’t engaged.” Trocht- enberg has been an outspoken advocate for foster care re- form and is actively involved in the implementation of CCR. MORE FAMILIES NEEDED CCR seeks to elevate the standards and level the playing field for all foster youth. Convened under the Department of So- cial Services, it began as a group of stakeholders, including foster youth, foster families, foster family agencies, group home providers (now called short-term residential thera- peutic providers), child welfare agencies and policymakers, all tasked with creating a list of recommended foster care MORE SERVICES NEEDED Larger, more established organizations like Sierra Forever reforms. After a two-year process, 19 recommendations Families, a Sacramento nonprofit organization providing were issued and introduced through Assembly Bill 403. The pre-and-post adoption services, have been working on per- legislative mandates became effective Jan. 1 of this year. The state intends to reduce the number of children in manency for some time. “Although some children enter foster care, no child group homes from 8,000 to 2,000 in the next few years. The should grow up in foster care,