Families in crisis benefit from services to improve parenting and family functioning, which help prevent children’s entry into the child welfare system and support reunification after a child has been removed from their home.
When families are in crisis, prevention and intervention services, such as home visiting programs, can be powerful tools for strengthening families. The Prevention Initiative Demonstration Project home visiting program in Los Angeles County has demonstrated a nearly 50% reduction in Child Protective Service referrals for participating families when compared to non-participating families.
Parental substance abuse is a contributing factor in many cases of child maltreatment. Substance abuse treatment interventions, such as Family Treatment Drug Courts, are effective in helping families involved in the child welfare system safely reunite. For example, 45% of participating families in the Sacramento County Dependency Drug Court program were reunited, compared to 27% of families not in the program.
Family reunification is the preferred permanency option when it can be achieved in a safe and timely manner. In 2011, 43% of children were reunited with their parents within 1 year of entering the child welfare system. While California is improving its rate of family reunification, in 2011 roughly 12% of children returned to foster care within 12 months of reunification. Strategies to ensure successful family reunification include risk and reintegration assessments, providing aftercare services for 12 months post-reunification and helping parents build an adequate support network prior to reunification.
California must support a statewide prevention program for children and families at risk of entering the child welfare system to ensure that those facing multiple contributing factors, such as substance abuse and mental health issues, are receiving the well-coordinated services and interventions they need. Such a program would promote early intervention, at-home services and reunification to ultimately keep children safe, support families as they learn to care for their children successfully and prevent children from experiencing the trauma of being removed from their homes and families when possible.
Figure: Foster kids and family reunification
(click to enlarge image)
California State Assembly Bill 545 (Mitchell) was signed into law in September 2013. This legislation expands the definition of a nonrelated extended family member to include adult caregivers who have an established relationship with a family member of the dependent child.