For Children in the Foster Care System, Stability Can Be Hard to Come By

The Family Urgent Response System Will Help Reduce Disruptions in Placement

By Susanna Kniffen

August 5, 2020

When children enter foster care, they have already experienced abuse and/or neglect, loss, and disruption to their relationships. They have been taken out of their homes, and away from everything that they know to be familiar. To help them heal from this trauma, these kids and young people need stable placements where they can develop consistent and supportive relationships with nurturing caregivers. Placement stability not only leads to improved emotional well-being, but also to better health and educational outcomes for children.

Unfortunately, for far too many children in foster care, placement stability remains elusive. Among children who are in foster care for two years or longer, 44 percent experience three or more placements and 15 percent experience five or more placements. This volatility can create further trauma for children who are already so vulnerable and in need of consistency and support.

There are a variety of factors impacting placement stability in California, including:

  • Barriers accessing crucial community-based, trauma-informed supports during times of instability, which can quickly derail caregiver and youth’s efforts to build strong relationships;
  • Minor miscommunications and frustrations, which can sometimes intensify and have detrimental results, leaving youth feeling further traumatized; and
  • Caregivers who call the police in moments of crisis because they lack other, more appropriate options for immediate help, leading to the inappropriate criminalization of traumatized children.

Additionally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, caregivers are struggling with increasing responsibilities and other related stressors, all with limited access to the critical services and supports they need, putting children in foster care at greater risk of placement instability. The added isolation, uncertainty and anxiety brought on by the global health crisis, as well as the disruptions to normal routines and visitation with family, are devastating to these children and youth. Ensuring stability is, now more than ever, vital to a child’s well-being and ability to thrive.

Stable placements are possible, but they do not just happen. Caregivers, children, and youth all need access to critical supports, like the Family Urgent Response System (FURS), that are designed to create stability and strengthen relationships.

The 2019-20 California state budget established FURS, an exciting new coordinated system that consists of a 24/7 statewide hotline (for both caregivers and youth) and county mobile response teams. FURS will increase access to trauma-informed supports to help children and youth heal by providing immediate support and then connecting the family to ongoing, community-based services, leading to less placement changes, hospitalizations, and institutionalization of children and youth. Additionally, FURS is a critical tool to support current and former foster youth and caregivers during the pandemic. In recognition of this, the 2020-21 state budget allows for FURS implementation to be expedited and for county-based mobile response systems to be temporarily adapted to address circumstances associated with COVID-19.

FURS can also help reduce the involvement of law enforcement and the needless criminalization of already-traumatized young people, as it is an appropriate alternative for families to reach out to during moments of instability. Data from the juvenile justice system reflects that a trauma-informed option such as FURS is desperately needed: a significant percentage of youth in the juvenile justice system have also had prior contact or involvement with the child welfare system. According to a recent study of Los Angeles County probation youth, 83 percent had been referred to the child protection system at least once for alleged mistreatment, more than 33 percent had a substantiated report of childhood maltreatment, and 20 percent had been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect and placed in child welfare-supervised foster care (Children’s Data Network, 2017).

By ensuring that caregivers, children and youth have access to trauma-informed supports, like FURS, and other critical resources and services, we can improve placement stability, reduce engagement with law enforcement, and better meet the individual needs of children and youth in foster care as they heal and successfully transition to adulthood.

To learn more about placement stability and the impact it can have on children and youth, please take a look at pages 58 and 59 of the 2020 California Children’s Report Card.

The Children Now research team developed the infographic below to highlight how the pandemic is affecting children and their families, and the steps the State can take to address many of these key issues.