Uncharted Waters

Twice a year the California Alliance of Child and Family Services assembles its members for a three-day conference to address trends in the field of practice and report on public policy developments and advocacy issues. As always, the meeting was very informative and provided a great opportunity to be re-energized for what is emerging to be a significant period of change for child welfare in both California and the nation. Some would say that what we are experiencing is a sea change: a historic transformation of how we address the needs of vulnerable children and their families.
Two things are driving this transformation: a proposed realignment of funds and functions from the state to the counties and the implementation of health care reform. Realignment is a proposal by Governor Brown to shift funds from the state to the counties to provide an array of service, including child welfare and mental health services. This would free Sacramento of these responsibilities and theoretically provide for a more effective and efficient delivery of service at the local level. If the funding for this realignment is approved by the voters in a referendum in late spring, this would signal an historic shift that will challenge some of the well-established ways of providing for the state’s most vulnerable. This is fraught with risks though; it also offers opportunities to develop a better system of delivering service to the needy.
At the national level, with significant ramifications for the state, is the development of health care reform. Though there continues to be many uncertainties about this initiative, it has established some principles regarding health care that mark a new approach to the provision of health related services. The reform calls for a greater emphasis on preventive and early intervention to mitigate the need for acute care. It also encourages a more integrated model of care that does not segregate mental health from health care, in general. This is in contrast to our current system where mental health and community outreach efforts are separated from the typical health care system. Again, as with realignment, this move comes with great risks and leaves providers like Hillsides wondering how to position ourselves in this new emerging order that will govern the delivery of health related services.
These developments affirm any number of things that have been initiated at Hillsides, in particular, our preparation for national accreditation and the introduction of evidence-based programs. These initiatives help us measure and demonstrate the impact that we have on the children and families we serve.
A new order is emerging and the details are still unknown. Regardless, there are three things that continue to be essential: 1) keeping children and families safe, 2) enhancing their well-being, and 3) providing for their long-term stability. We must never lose sight of the basics as we endure the swells of a sea change!

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