Human Service Model – Social Systems Theory –Foster Care
The foster home movement in American began in the mid 1800’s when the trend shifted from providing care to children in home environments rather than institutions. The philosophy was that it would be preferable to raise children in situations that resemble average family homes as much as possible (Barth 1990). Ideally, this temporary foster care was meant to provide for a child while the natural family is receiving the needed services to strengthen them and make it possible for the child to return home (Barth 1990).
In the United States today, approximately 500,000 children reside in a foster care setting. The child welfare system in the U.S. has in the past devoted much attention and resources to investigations and to the institutional care of children (Clausen 2004). The focus now is on increasing the prevention services that can identify families at risk and avoid the need for out-of-home placements. The prevention system includes services such as family preservation programs, family-centered service programs, parenting program and substance abuse treatment. The theory is that children and families are impacted by their experiences in life and societal influences. There are situations and experiences that place children and families at risk, including substance abuse, poverty, and lack of education and a history of abuse (Urquhart 2000).
In New York and in fact across the country, the goal is to maintain children in their own homes to the greatest extent possible without jeopardizing safety. This drastic measure of taking a child out of their home causes long term effects. The disruption in a child’s life must be the last resort and the decision to make such a move must be deemed necessary to assure safety (Claussen 2004). The system has begun to recognize the emotional impact and long term mental health issues these children face as the result of out-of-home placements. The system has also begun to assess and plan for children and families holistically, looking at all of their life domains with the goal of strengthening families and children.
For those children who do require foster care placement, the challenge for the social service system has been recruiting the number of homes needed. This has been an increasing challenge over the last 50 year. With women working and an increase in single family homes, the commitment to fostering a child is too much for most families to consider. Unfortunately, the need for foster care has grown and may be related to societal changes including an increase in violent communities and families in poverty as well as substance abuse. The combined result has been an increase in the number of children in or at risk of foster care. With less foster homes available and the ability to recruit new homes increasingly difficult, the philosophy must shift to identifying families at risk early. Services to strengthen families and avoid the need for future foster care placements are better for children, families and society as a whole.
For those children who are placed, it is critical that the foster homes received training and have all the supports needed to maintain the child. The goal is to make the foster care experience a successful experience for the child. The history of children moving from one home to the next and ultimately more restrictive setting is problematic and creates more problems for the child, family, system and society. The importance of properly screening and training foster care families cannot be overstated. Training and supports are critical to making placements successful.
It is also critical to provide a complete assessment of the child to assure that the out-of-home placement is appropriate to the individual child (Martin 2000). Child protective services system have a continuum of options available including therapeutic foster care for children who need more attention and support, residential care which is a more institutional setting but can be necessary for a child with extreme behavior problem and issues that are too much for a foster family to address. The assessment of a child can lead to the best placement, traditional foster care being one option Barth 1990).
In New York, every county has a separate Department of Social Services (DSS). DSS is in charge of administering the foster care system. The local or county DSS can work with local agencies that help recruit, train and support foster homes. Community agencies also work with DSS to provide case management and services to children in foster care as well as to their families (Martin 2000). The basic model of care involves a treatment plan, which organizes the needs of the child, natural family and foster family. The plan is a holistic, strength based plan for strengthen the child and family with the goal of returning the child home, if that is possible and appropriate. The goal will be different for some youth and can include adoption or, for older children, independent living. Either way, the goal is to develop a plan for permanent living for the child (Martin 2000).
Across the country, child protective service agencies have adopted wraparound models of care that seek to wrap service around he child as needed. This approach strives to provide what the child needs rather than give the child the services that are available. There have also been models of family treatment implemented including Multisystemic Family Therapy, which has proven to be successful. These models ideally, treat each family individually and can be successful with children in placement as well as those at home (Rosenfeld 1997).
The problems with all of the system theories are inherent in social services. The people working in the system are typically not well paid and have high caseloads and not enough ongoing training and support. The system for staff should also include supports and supervision to meet the individual needs of each employee (Martin 2000). The other major challenge is of course funding to provide the services needed and to ensure a complete system of care. Including all of the system in a child and families life can also be a challenge and require a great deal of work and direction on the part of people in control of the system and the agencies involved (Rosenfeld 1997).
The foster care system has made a great deal of progress since the 1800, moving from institutions to home care models. An emphasis on holistic assessment and wraparound planning is a major improvement and therapeutic models with proven outcomes and evaluation methods are important (Martin 2000). Continued coordination, collaboration and system reform is necessary if the state and county are to assure good outcomes for the children who are the products of these troubled families. The formation of partnerships between public and private agencies and funding sources
Annotated Reference List
Barth, Richard, on their own: The experiences of youth after foster care Journal Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, Publisher Springer Netherlands, Volume 7, Number 5, 1990
Youth who leave the foster care system often become young adults with a host of problems including substance abuse, poor education, unemployment, homelessness
Clausen, June., Landsverk, John, Ganger William, Mental Health Problems of Children in Foster Care, Journal of Child and Family Studies , Springer Netherlands Publisher, Volume 7, Number 3, 2004
Children in foster care settings are at risk for developing or exacerbating mental health problems, Children is foster care have more than double the incident of mental health problems as children in the general population. Screening for mental health issues is important prior to foster care placement to assure services.
Martin, J. A. (2000). Foster Family Care; Theory and Practice. Boston, Allyn and Bacon. McCroskey, Jacquelyn, Family-Centered Services: Approaches and Effectiveness
The Future of Children, Vol. 8, No. 1, Protecting Children from Abuse and Neglect (Spring, 1998), pp. 54-71
The system of child protective services spends much time and money on out-of-home for children. Emphasis should be placed also on the importance of prevention. Providing families at risk with services and supports can effectively reduce the need for foster care.
Rosenfeld, Alvin, Pilowski, Danile. Foster Care: An Update, Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 36(4):448-457, April 1997.
An overview of the healthcare need of the children residing in foster care and he importance of identification and appropriate treatment by physicians.
Urquhart, Lois, Separation and loss: Assessing the impacts on foster parent retention, Journal Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, Netherlands Publisher, Volume 6, Number 3 / September, 1989.
Over a quarter of a million children reside in foster family homes across the United States. The system has ongoing issues with children moving from one home to another. Issues related to training and agency supportive services are factors in foster home retention.
Handbook for Youth in Foser Care, New York State Office f Children and Family Services.
Informational manual for youth placed in foster care which includes information on the process and philosophy as well as practical information.