Recently I was sitting in on a team meeting where caregivers were discussing the plan to reunify one of our residents with their family. The team lamented that although the family was making progress in its attempt to reunify with their child, they were still not ready to have the child move home.
In this situation, rather than prolong the time a child stays in residential treatment, it is always best to find a home where the child can get back to a more typical routine, ideally in their home community and close to their family. The use of a foster family home until the child and family are reunited can be beneficial because it provides them with a sense of progress and provides a more “normal” environment for the child. The child can continue to get treatment and hopefully get back to their school of origin while increasing the engagement with their family.
The concern of the team that day was that there was no foster family available to serve as a resource for this child and family. Although Hillsides is not a provider of foster family homes, we are fortunate to partner with a number of local foster family agencies, such as Five Acres and Bienvenidos, to identify foster homes for our residents as needed. The challenge is that there just are not enough foster homes available. In Los Angeles County, there are 20,571 children in foster care matched to foster homes, relative care, and group homes.
In some instances, foster homes have been portrayed as poor alternatives to group homes. Sensational news reports of the failure of some foster homes to keep children safe have created a negative impression of these homes. While these cases are not to be condoned and the abuses must be addressed, the vast majority of foster homes are providing an effective indispensable service to vulnerable children. Recent California legislation, AB 403, recognizes the role of foster homes as an important resource to reduce prolonged stays in residential treatment and serve as a bridge to reunification of the family. Foster homes are seen not necessarily as a permanent setting for a child but rather a temporary resource until the child and family can be reunited.
The challenge, as the Hillsides team discovered, is recruiting enough foster families. Currently, 2,136 children are matched to group homes for which some may require foster families to be compliant with AB 403. Fortunately there are many excellent organizations that recruit and support foster families, providing excellent care for vulnerable children and serving as a great resource until families can be restored. As we at Hillsides embrace the reforms embedded in AB 403, we join with our peer organizations in encouraging members of the community to consider serving as a foster parent. Together, we hope to assemble the kind of system of care that increases the capacity of the foster care system to better serve the needs of the children and families. For more information on how you can serve as a foster parent, please visit Five Acres or Bienvenidos.