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WA Foster Parent Survey Shows Signs of Improvement in Foster Care; Other Areas Remain Unchanged

The third annual survey of foster parents and other caregivers in Washington State shows significant gains in the number of children receiving monthly caseworker visits, and other improvements. The survey is part of the implementation of the Braam foster care reform settlement, reached in 2004 after NCYL and other advocates sued the state over deficiencies in the foster care system.

The Department of Social and Health Services’ (DSHS) failure to conduct monthly visits to the majority of foster children was one of four areas prompting plaintiffs in Braam to take the agency back to court in June 2008.  The percentage of children currently receiving monthly visits almost doubled – to 69 percent – since last year’s survey.

“While there is still a ways to go, this year’s survey shows that progress can be made when there is a commitment to do so,” said Casey Trupin of Columbia Legal Services in Washington, who is co-counsel in Braam.  “We are pleased that the new administration has voiced its commitment to further the reforms promised to children five years ago.”

The groundbreaking survey, first administered in 2007, was developed as a way to measure the progress being made toward system improvements required by the Braam Settlement Agreement.  The survey, conducted by researchers at Washington State University, is believed to be the most comprehensive statewide foster parent survey conducted anywhere in the US. The survey includes interviews with more than 1,200 foster parents and relative caregivers about their experiences caring for children in the last half of 2008.

In addition to monthly visits, lack of improvement in the frequency of sibling visits/contacts, reduction in caseload sizes, and the timely completion of Child Health and Education Tracking (CHET) screens prompted Braam plaintiffs to return to court.  The survey revealed that contact between siblings had improved slightly, from 48.4 percent in 2007 to 53.7 percent in 2009.  In 2008, the State Legislature invested several million dollars to improve twice-monthly contact between siblings in foster care.

CHET screens and caseloads were not measured by the survey.  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.  Reports from regional administrators indicate, however, that timely completion has improved since the influx of additional funding.

The survey also shows that DSHS has improved the continuity of mental health care for foster children, with the percentage of children who kept the same behavioral health provider throughout the year increasing from 75.4 percent in 2007 to 95 percent in 2009.

Despite these improvements, DSHS is far from reaching most of the Braam benchmarks measured by the survey. For example, the levels of training, support, and information provided by DSHS have shown no improvement according to the survey, and fall far short of required benchmarks. In addition, the Department’s new FamLink case management system has resulted in unreliable data for many of the benchmarks required under Braam.

Ultimately, DSHS is still out of compliance with numerous requirements of the Braam Implementation Plan.  DSHS’s compliance with all Braam outcomes, including those not measured by the survey, is reviewed in the Braam Monitoring Panel’s latest monitoring report.

Both the Monitoring Report and the survey reports can be found on the Braam Panel website: www.braampanel.org

The Braam Panel was convened a several years ago as a result of the settlement in the 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.

For more information, see www.braamkids.org

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