Saturday, June 02, 2007

Shipping children out of county leads to group homes shutting down due to empty bed

Report criticizes O.C. foster care
Grand jury says practice of sending children to other counties makes it hard to reunify families, wastes money

Wisckol, Martin. Orange County Register, June 1, 2007.

One in four Orange County foster children gets shipped out of the county as a result of an emphasis on getting those kids into homes rather than group facilities.

But the out-of-county children might be better off in Orange County group facilities, which are closing down because of empty beds, according to a county grand jury report released Thursday.
The report acknowledges that the county has about half the number of children in out-of-home placement as similarly sized San Diego County. But the Orange County children, particularly those sent out of county, may be bearing the brunt of the policy, the grand jury report says.

The philosophy of the county's Children and Family Services is that "even mediocre foster care is better than the best congregate care," according to the report.

Calls to the county's Social Services Agency seeking comment on the report were not returned Thursday.

As of February, 722 of the county's 2,792 foster children were living out of county. This makes it more difficult for both family members and social workers to spend time with the children, the report says.

"Trying to reunify the family and child over a distance is difficult," it notes.

Social workers' caseloads are not adjusted to compensate for road time visiting children outside the county, meaning they have less time for each of the children they oversee, the report says.

Additionally, $1.5 million is spent on transportation that might be better spent elsewhere in the program, and local group facilities should be used more, the report says.