Helping families: Change in law could keep kids in homes

Published: Friday, Oct. 12 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

The shift to increase in-home services will be phased in over time, said Cosette Mills, federal revenue manager for DCFS. The goal of the initiative is to reduce foster care caseload 10 percent by the fourth year of the waiver's implementation.

The effort is expected to launch in the spring to allow time to train staff, identify community resources to assist families and possibly hire more caseworkers to work with families that receive in-home services. As the need for foster care drops off, caseworkers could be reassigned to oversee families receiving in-home services.

The annualized cost of case addressed with in-home services is $1,912 per case, compared to $30,593 per child for foster care, according to DCFS.

In exchange for the flexibility, the federal government is requiring third-party evaluations and ongoing reporting to determine if the waivers can be extended and whether the experience can result in a nationwide policy shift, Mills said.

Platt said the waiver should help the state address a 38 percent increase in Utah foster care placements during the previous decade. The number of families that received in-home support that enabled children to stay in their homes decreased by 40 percent over the same time period, as revealed in the legislative audit.

The audit also pointed out that funding for in-home services had decreased over a five-year period. Those services are fully funded by the state's general fund, while out-of-home placements are funded with state and federal dollars.

"Now, for the first time in many years, we can define where we want to go," Platt said, explaining that ongoing improvements have built upon systemic changes that occurred after a federal lawsuit in the 1990s challenging the state's child welfare practices.

"We want to keep doing better," he said. "It is already a quality system recognized around the country."

For front-line workers, the possibility of providing more in-home services makes Selim "giddy." 

There's potential to "change the way child welfare works in the state of Utah," she said.

"I want people to call DCFS when they need help," Selim said, "not hide behind the curtains." 

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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