WA Meets Just Six of 22 Outcomes in Foster Care Reform Case
But Improvements Seen in Children’s Health, Safety, and Stability
By Casey Trupin and Erin Shea McCann
While the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (“the Department”) has met only six of the outcomes established by the monitoring panel for the Braam v. Washington foster care reform settlement, the Department has made improvements that affect children’s health, safety, and stability. Given the large number of outcomes not yet attained, it is likely the Settlement Agreement will be extended. The agreement is currently set to expire in July.
“While there is still a ways to go, this report shows real measurable progress in making changes to the foster care system,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Casey Trupin of Columbia Legal Services in Seattle. “As compared to a few years ago, children in care are being visited by caseworkers far more often, are having their needs assessed better and more quickly, and appear to be in more stable placements.”
Columbia Legal Services in co-counsel in the case along with NCYL and private attorney Tim Farris.
The latest information on the Department’s progress is contained in the monitoring panel’s 10th report. The panel issues monitoring reports twice a year tracking the Department’s efforts to implement foster care reforms required by the Braam Settlement Agreement, reached in 2004. The Monitoring Report analyzes data from FY 2010 (July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010) and includes data by region, providing critical information about successful regional strategies, as well as regions that need additional focus.
Areas of Progress
The Monitoring Report shows the Department has improved performance on a number of outcomes, even where it has not met the annual benchmark. For example, the percentage of caseworkers in FY10 with a caseload at or below the Council on Accreditation’s standard of 18 children jumped to 72.2 percent (up from 65 percent in FY09). Although the Department has yet to meet the benchmark of 90 percent, it has shown steady improvement in this area over the last two years. More recent reports provided by the Department indicate that, in March of this year, the percentage of caseloads meeting the standard jumped to 76 percent.
While the Department struggled for more than a decade to conduct timely child health and education tracking (CHET) screens, it was able to provide timely screening to 78 percent of children—up from 22 percent in FY05. Although it has not reached the benchmark of 90 percent, more recent reports indicate that in December 2010 it provided timely CHET screening to 95 percent of children.
The Department is still far below the FY10 benchmark for monthly caseworker visits with children. While 95 percent of children are supposed to receive a visit from a caseworker each and every month, only 53.6 percent of children did so. However, there has been significant improvement. In FY08, the Department reported its performance at 10.5 percent. In January 2011, the Department said it had reached the 95 percent benchmark for that month.
The Department also cited progress in other areas, including improved placement stability, reduction in the number of school changes, reduction in the frequency of foster youth running away, and improved timeliness and thoroughness of abuse and neglect investigations.
Need for Improvement
In some areas, meaningful progress has not been made. For example, there has been little change in foster parents’ perceptions that they are not adequately supported and trained by the Department, though foster parents do report improvement in the level of information provided about children in their care. Additionally, contact between siblings separated in foster care have not increased at a meaningful rate. In 2007, 48.4 percent of eligible children had two or more monthly visits or contacts with their siblings, while FY10 data shows only 51.6 percent of eligible children had visits (down from 52.8 percent in FY09).
For the full Monitoring Report: www.braampanel.org/reports.asp.
The Braam Oversight Panel’s last public meeting under the current Settlement Agreement will be held on June 6 and 7, 2011. For more information, go to www.braampanel.org.
Casey Trupin and Erin Shea McCann are attorneys at Columbia Legal Services in Seattle, and serve as co-counsel for the class of children in Braam, along with NCYL attorneys Bill Grimm and Bryn Martyna, and private attorney Tim Farris.