June 21, 2023
Top image via iStock from eyecrave productions
Everyone can use a little extra support every now and then. For children and youth who have experienced foster care, including older youth living on their own, additional support can be the difference between maintaining the stability needed to thrive or disrupting their lives and wellbeing.
In 2019, Children Now urged the Governor and legislature to establish the Family Urgent Response System to make sure that children and youth who have spent time in foster care and their caregivers have access to trauma-informed support whenever they need it, day or night, for any reason. Children, youth, and caregivers can call, text, or chat with a caring counselor at Cal-FURS, the statewide hotline, and receive in-person support from a local mobile response team if they want it.
Statewide utilization data reflects the growing importance of FURS to children, youth, and caregivers: monthly call volume to Cal-FURS has nearly tripled since the hotline launched and, on average, a quarter of the calls are referred for an in-person response.
Even more significantly, we are hearing success stories illustrating the positive impact FURS is already having:
“One night, we were in a situation where we were no longer able to calm our kiddo. We were so worried and scared. Then, we remembered there’s the FURS line. We didn’t know what to expect, but we wanted to see how FURS could help. They were so professional and kind. If you have any concerns, especially after hours, FURS is a great avenue to talk to someone and they can send someone out to help your family.”
-Los Angeles County Caregiver
“I was really hesitant [to call FURS] because you wonder if it will be as effective as it sounds, but I was blown away by the amount of support provided. FURS didn’t shuffle us around or come back and tell us that they could not help us, unlike some other services available to us. The mobile response team took their time with [the young adult], they weren’t looking at a timer. Before they left, the team told the young adult that if she needed more support, she could call them again and they would come back. After the response, the team ensured she was connected to ongoing supports. The young adult felt so supported.”
– Transitional Housing Placement – Nonminor Dependent Provider in Southern California
To ensure youth and caregivers’ perspectives inform the California Department of Social Services and county partners’ FURS implementation efforts, Children Now conducted focus groups and semi-structured interviews in late 2022 with youth, caregivers, and stakeholders, including child welfare workers and probation officers, in Los Angeles County.
Ultimately, Children Now spoke to 47 members from the community and learned:
FURS is a wanted, needed, and appreciated resource.
All groups identified that FURS appealed to them particularly because it is 24/7, available for a wide range of situations, available in multiple languages, for both youth and caregivers, and has some level of built-in follow up. Youth also appreciated having someone to turn to for support when they may not feel like they have anyone who can provide a safe place to talk.
Awareness of FURS is spreading but understanding of what FURS provides needs to be strengthened.
While the majority of participants had some basic knowledge of FURS, most did not have a complete understanding of the resource, such as FURS is available 24/7 and for a broader range of issues beyond crises, qualities that are unique to FURS compared with other similar support services.
Youth, caregivers, and other stakeholders want more information on FURS structure and staffing.
Youth, caregivers, and other stakeholders expressed the need to better understand how FURS works, including staff qualifications and experience, and what to expect when calling FURS.
Confidentiality is a primary concern of youth and caregivers.
Youth and caregivers raised questions regarding caller confidentiality and how information is protected, used, and shared. Both groups expressed that it was hard to feel they could trust a new service and expressed concerns about potential consequences of calling FURS, particularly regarding any information shared with county child welfare workers and other providers.
The FURS experience can be strengthened.
Participants who had used FURS identified some areas for improvement, including opportunities to enhance the caller experience and the transition to longer-term community resources.
Ongoing and expanded outreach is critical.
Among youth, caregivers, and other stakeholders there was a clear call for ongoing, increased, and diversified outreach efforts. Participants expressed needing to receive information about FURS repeatedly and in different ways, including through more word of mouth and conversational outreach.
“The biggest thing I would want to be able to relate to it would be if any of the people I know have called it before. I want to know their feedback and just knowing their feedback I would feel a little bit more comfortable.”
– Youth Focus Group Participant
It is clear from what focus groups shared that awareness of FURS is growing in Los Angeles and FURS is quickly becoming a resource deeply valued by youth, caregivers, child welfare workers, probation officers, and other stakeholders alike. However, growing trust in a new program, which is vital to its utilization and success, can be a nuanced, delicate and slow process particularly when working with children and youth who have experienced trauma and those who support them. Moving forward, there are several key opportunities to increase trust in FURS within the community and further strengthen FURS as a reliable resource youth and caregivers turn to in critical moments, including:
- Sharing information about who staffs the FURS hotline and mobile response teams and what callers can expect when reaching out to them;
- Establishing user feedback mechanisms and quality improvement processes;
- Making confidentiality and data privacy information available;
- Reviewing and updating outreach materials to ensure they are responsive to commonly asked questions, address common misunderstandings, and provide information youth and caregivers have identified as most helpful; and
- Further expanding outreach efforts for youth, caregivers, and other stakeholders that utilize a wide variety of strategies and mediums, particularly strategies employing conversations with and testimonials by trusted ambassadors as well as increased social media outreach.
Youth and caregiver feedback is critical to ensuring that a system like FURS works for them in practice. The recommendations included here and outlined above identify important next steps to ensuring FURS achieves its intended impact and provides the support children and youth who have spent time in foster care and their caregivers need and deserve.