Working With Casey, Oklahoma Doubles its Number of Licensed Foster Care Beds

Posted February 21, 2018
Oklahoma increases foster homes and beds

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion teamed up with the state of Okla­homa to improve its fos­ter care sys­tem, and the mul­ti­year col­lab­o­ra­tion is yield­ing impres­sive results.

Oklahoma’s child wel­fare sys­tem — ranked among the nation’s poor­est per­form­ing sys­tems not long ago — has shown the great­est increase in fos­ter home capac­i­ty nation­wide, accord­ing to a recent report. In just three years, the state’s Depart­ment of Human Ser­vices (DHS) has dou­bled the num­ber of approved fos­ter beds, reach­ing almost 5,500 by the end of 2017.

This increased capac­i­ty occurred at a time when the num­ber of chil­dren and youth in fos­ter care declined statewide.

Casey’s engage­ment with DHS had two aims:

  • retain, recruit and effec­tive­ly sup­port fos­ter par­ents, with the goal of end­ing the prac­tice of plac­ing chil­dren in group facil­i­ties; and
  • guide the department’s imple­men­ta­tion of child safe­ty meet­ings, a team deci­sion mak­ing mod­el that empha­sizes engag­ing fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties in child safe­ty, removal and place­ment decisions.

The Foundation’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group (CWSG) part­nered with DHS staff to design and imple­ment a robust fos­ter par­ent recruit­ment cam­paign. The group also worked to shift DHS away from using short-term shel­ters for chil­dren — an effort man­dat­ed by a 2012 set­tle­ment of a fed­er­al class-action law­suit that sig­nif­i­cant­ly increased the demand for fos­ter and kin­ship care.

Oklahoma’s child wel­fare pro­fes­sion­als focused on ensur­ing more chil­dren are placed with fam­i­lies, where our research and expe­ri­ence tells us they do best,” says Tracey Feild, CWSG’s direc­tor. They also under­stand that it isn’t enough to sim­ply sign up more fos­ter par­ents. They are pri­or­i­tiz­ing mak­ing fos­ter par­ents full part­ners in rais­ing the chil­dren in their care, and they are offer­ing sup­port every step of the way.”

The collaboration’s approach was com­pre­hen­sive, with an eye toward long-term sus­tain­abil­i­ty. DHS enhanced how it worked with both pri­vate agen­cies and trib­al orga­ni­za­tions. The depart­ment also adapt­ed the Foundation’s Fos­ter Home Esti­ma­tor, a data-analy­sis tool that enables users to iden­ti­fy geo­graph­ic areas where fos­ter par­ents are need­ed most. The tool helped DHS pin­point spe­cif­ic fam­i­ly types — such as those able to accom­mo­date old­er chil­dren and sib­ling groups — that were in high demand.

Child wel­fare sys­tems are always chas­ing after the next shiny thing, often with­out con­sid­er­ing what they want their prac­tices and out­comes to look like five or 10 years down the line,” says Jami Ledoux, DHS direc­tor of child wel­fare ser­vices. This part­ner­ship allowed us to engage in thought­ful plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion for sus­tain­able improvements.”

In addi­tion to intro­duc­ing new train­ing pro­to­cols, Casey worked with DHS staff to imple­ment child safe­ty meet­ings (CSMs). This prac­tice — which involves fam­i­lies, care­givers and pro­fes­sion­als — can help pre­vent chil­dren from being unnec­es­sar­i­ly removed from their homes.

CSMs have impact­ed how we think about our role in people’s lives and our work across the board,” Ledoux says. The deci­sions we reach through that process lit­er­al­ly deter­mine where a child sleeps at night.”

Tri­cia How­ell, DHS deputy direc­tor of fos­ter care and adop­tion, cred­its Casey with chal­leng­ing the depart­ment to make sig­nif­i­cant ser­vice improve­ments while also sup­ply­ing the need­ed research and front­line sup­port. Every state in the nation is suf­fer­ing right now,” How­ell says. Through the breadth of knowl­edge and the lev­el of expe­ri­ence the Casey team brought to the table, we learned what works, what is pos­si­ble and what we can do with­in our resources to pro­tect and care for Oklahoma’s children.”

Child wel­fare agen­cies in oth­er states can learn from Oklahoma’s suc­cess­es. Some lessons worth repeating:

  • Effec­tive sys­tems change often involves encour­ag­ing the larg­er com­mu­ni­ty, includ­ing advo­cates, to sup­port the child wel­fare agency’s reform agenda.
  • Agen­cies must find ways to ensure that lead­ers from both pub­lic and pri­vate providers are part of the solu­tion. Feild points to recent com­ments in Tul­sa World by Kei­th Howard, a vice pres­i­dent for the Okla­homa Unit­ed Methodist Cir­cle of Care, a fos­ter care ser­vices provider. The indi­vid­u­als dri­ving improve­ments in Okla­homa, says Howard, spanned the spec­trum, from state offi­cials… to pri­vate agency lead­er­ship… There was a com­mon theme among these lead­ers, Let’s be com­mit­ted to mak­ing Okla­homa bet­ter through increas­ing fos­ter homes and find­ing ways to keep kids out of fos­ter care.’”
  • In states with sig­nif­i­cant indige­nous pop­u­la­tions, trib­al orga­ni­za­tions can be key part­ners. Okla­homa DHS worked inten­sive­ly with trib­al orga­ni­za­tions, which helped to build rela­tion­ships and boost the num­ber of trib­al fos­ter families.

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