Nationally the trend in foster care is to use residential treatment centers like Hillsides as a resource for children and families to 1) assess the challenges they are experiencing, 2) provide a consistent therapeutic environment within which to stabilize the child, 3) develop a plan that would provide long- term stability, and 4) quickly restore the child to the family and community as soon as possible. Proposed federal and state legislation envision the length of stay in residential treatment to be anywhere from 30 days to six months, a dramatic departure from the 18 to 36 months in residence that is currently the norm in California. Residential treatment, coupled with effective community-based services, has proven to be successful in reducing the trauma of separation and increasing the much-need engagement of families in caring for their children.
This shortened treatment model is dependent on extended family to serve as a source of support for children who are ready to leave residential treatment but whose parents may not be prepared to receive them for numerous reasons. Often when I speak to therapists about residents’ progress toward reunification with their family, they relay how challenging it can be to find someone within the family to care for the child either on a short-term or long-term basis. However it is worth the effort of identifying someone within the family who can be a caregiver because it allows a child to stay within the family. This familial context reinforces a child’s sense of identity and attachment, and is the foundation for a healthy, well-adjusted life.
Not every family member is in a position to welcome a relative’s child into his or her home. Family dynamics can be complicated, sacrifices are required, and the best interests of the child must always be safeguarded even at the risk of family loyalties. When I meet with relative caregivers, I am always impressed at their determination to meet the demands of caring for a child who has been traumatized and requires a great deal of individualized attention. In speaking with alumni of Hillsides who have benefited from relative caregivers, they say the experience is indispensable to their well-being.
Given that relative caregivers are always preferred over a foster family, it has been disconcerting that relative caregivers have not received the same reimbursement as a foster family. Recently, the State made funds available to counties to provide relative caregivers the same reimbursement provided to foster parents. Although these funds were available, it was the discretion of each county to elect to participate in this funding source. Hillsides, along with other providers, encouraged the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to take advantage of this funding to provide relative caregivers with much-needed resources.
We are happy to report that the Board of Supervisors last week voted to take advantage of these funds. The decision to participate in this program will ensure that relative families are provided with resources to enhance the care they give to these children and improve their outcomes. Hillsides takes this opportunity to thank the Board of Supervisors for its leadership on this issue. With the proposed shortened residential treatment stays coming our way soon, this initiative is needed now more than ever.