As most of you know, a few weeks ago, Hillsides made the announcement of our intent to merge with another respected child welfare agency, Bienvenidos. Since then, I have had the pleasure of speaking personally to many of our supporters and donors and bringing them up to speed on how this exciting new development fits into a broader picture. Since I am unable to meet with each and every one of our supporters, I wanted to provide some historical, legislative, and financial background to help put our decision to become affiliated with another agency into context.
Some 30 years ago, residential treatment centers like Hillsides began to see the need to create community-based services that would provide families with extra support to overcome challenges and withstand pressures that might break them apart. Around that time, Hillsides created our Family Resource Centers, where we provide mental health counseling, parenting classes, and other crucial resources throughout Los Angeles County. We have had great success expanding these services and today, our community-based programs and services account for the majority of our clients.
In recent years, we’ve also seen the squeeze on the amount of dollars provided at both the federal and state level for children in foster care. Currently, the vast majority of public funds are used for a small percentage of children in the system – those with the most acute needs. While clearly these very vulnerable children need the support, it means that the majority of children receive little funding.
With limited funds to spend on children in foster care, policy makers and experts in this field realized that early community intervention is key to children’s successful outcomes. If you can stabilize a child and a family early on, it’s good for the child, family, and also cost effective. One way to provide early intervention is through a comprehensive approach of community-based services such as our Family Resource Centers provide.
Along the way we, and entire child welfare field, began to realize that the older model of a child “growing up” at an institutional setting is not preferred. We know that children do best in their own families and communities, and policies and practices have swung this way in recent years. Rather than being a surrogate family and community, Hillsides and other agencies have become a short-term resource for both the child and family, providing a safe environment to stabilize a child, develop an effective treatment plan, and begin the process of reunifying child with the community and hopefully with the family.
Beginning six years ago, we have participated in a pilot program that does just this, and the results have been very promising: Sixty percent of the children have returned home. So we know that this model works.
This concept was crystallized into state law this past January with the passing of AB403, or the Continuum of Care Reform. AB403 mandates that children live in a residential program like Hillsides for limited amounts of time before they are either returned to their family/community or else temporarily live with “resource families” (foster families) if their families and communities are not yet able to receive them.
As Hillsides anticipated and then quickly moved to adapt to AB403, we realized we were missing a crucial piece of the puzzle: those resource families (foster families) that would help children transition, if needed, from our residential treatment program to their families. We began looking around at agencies that provide foster care/adoption services and after a long and thoughtful search, realized that Bienvendios was a perfect match. We are aligned in our mission, and together, we will have a much greater impact on our communities and the children and families we serve.
Our partnership with Bienvenidos, allows us to have a bigger footprint throughout Los Angeles County, specifically in East Los Angeles, yet also reach into communities in Orange County, Riverside, and San Bernardino. It also provides us with 100 foster families that Bienvendios has relationships with. With this alliance, we are able to offer our families a full array of services that is in alignment with AB403, we are able to work more efficiently and cost-effectively, and we are taking yet one more step toward a comprehensive model of treatment that is a culmination of some 30 years of restrategizing and restructuring of the foster care system.
Change comes with challenges. The transition from Hillsides into a place where children spent entire childhoods to a short-term residential stay with the goal of family reunification, wrapped around with layers of community services, has been a long and sometimes arduous path. But it’s a journey well-worth taking, a journey we must make, and one that is crucial for the number one priority at both Hillsides and Bienvenidos: the well-being of the children.