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

Posted February 21, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
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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