As Date Nears to End Foster Care Reform Case, Many Goals Still Not Met
New data released by the expert panel overseeing Washington State’s foster care reform efforts show marked improvement in caseloads and health and medical screening, but little progress in the majority of other areas, like contact between siblings. The state’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is currently meeting annual benchmarks for only 8 of its 32 reform outcomes.
The 2009 data, released in early January, is the first that includes any data from the Department’s new case management information system.
The Settlement Agreement in Braam v. Washington  (see box below) is set to expire in July 2011. However, since DSHS has reached only one outcome in four, it is likely to be extended.
The new data do show improvements in several important areas. For example, the percentage of caseworkers with a caseload at or below the Council on Accreditation’s standard of 18 children increased by 30 percent over last year, to 65 percent. In addition, DSHS has struggled for more than a decade to conduct timely health and education screening, but managed to provide timely screens to 64 percent of children in 2009, three times as many as in 2005.
While encouraging, these improvements still fall far short of the benchmarks set by the implementation panel. By 2009, 85 percent of caseworkers should have had caseloads in line with national standards, and 80 percent of foster youth should have had timely health and education screens.
DSHS is way below the 2009 benchmark for monthly caseworker visits with children. The benchmark was to have 95 percent of children meeting with a caseworker each and every month. only 15 percent did so. This does, however, represent a 41 percent increase over the prior year, and the most recent data indicates more than 72 percent of children received a visit in October 2009.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Erin Shea McCann of Columbia Legal Services in Seattle said, however, that she remains hopeful.
“The new leadership in the Department has been clear about its commitment to the Braam reform process,” she said, referring to new DSHS Secretary Susan Dreyfus, and new Assistant Secretary for Children’s Administration, Denise Revels Robinson. “This commitment will be critical given that, while the Department is making some progress especially around caseload ratios and health screens, there are still many areas that require significant, sustainable improvement.”
Plaintiffs in the case are represented by Erin Shea McCann and Casey Trupin of Columbia Legal Services, Bellingham attorney Tim Farris, and Bill Grimm and Bryn Martyna of NCYL.
The data indicate that:
- 65 percent of caseworkers statewide carry a caseload of 18 or fewer children, a 30 percent improvement over 2008. However, this still falls short of the 2009 benchmark of 85 percent. Other data indicate that, over the last decade, the average statewide caseload size has dropped from greater than 30 to less than 18 child cases per caseworker.
- The vast majority of children do not receive a face-to-face visit from a caseworker each and every month. The new data show that Department visited only 15 percent of children each and every month over a 12-month period. This does, however, represent a 41 percent increase over the prior year, but falls far short of the 95 percent 2009 benchmark. Monthly visits were not required prior to the release of the Braam implementation plan.
- The number of placements available per child has increased slightly since 2005. Placement stability (percentage of children who experience two or fewer placements) had been improving over the last several years, but 2009 data used a different measurement and cannot be compared with previous years.*
- Timely Child Health & Education Tracking (CHET) screens have been provided in nearly three times as many cases in 2009 versus 2005 – from 21.8 percent to 64 percent. CHET screens involve the comprehensive evaluation of children during their first month in foster care. The Department has struggled to complete these in a timely manner since the Legislature required the screens more than 10 years ago. Although the Department is still far from reaching the 2009 benchmark of 80 percent, and has made little progress since 2008, more recent data indicates that progress continues into 2010.
- Visits and contacts between siblings separated in foster care has increased, but not substantially, over the last three years – from 48.4 percent of children having two or more monthly visits or contacts with their siblings in 2007 to 53.7 percent of children in 2009.
- The frequency of children running from their placements has dropped 15 percent since 2005. The average length of time on the run has declined from 43 days in 2005 to 27 days in 2009 – a 37 percent decline. The average has been consistently declining each year.
- The number of children placed in adult mental health facilities has declined from 13 in 2005 to just one since 2007. Only one child has been placed in a hotel, motel, or office since 2007, a practice that was rampant when the Braam lawsuit was filed.
- Disparities still exist in a number of areas for African American and Native American children.
*Because of the new data system, a number of areas, such as placement stability, could not be produced or compared across all years.
The Braam Panel was convened several years ago as a result of the settlement in Braam vs. State of Washington. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of thousands of foster children in the state of Washington who had been bounced from home to home by the foster care system. The lawsuit focused on the multiple harms resulting from this constant instability. The case was settled in July 2004 and requires changes in six areas that affect children’s lives in the foster care system.