In my last blog post, I discussed the number of ‘initiatives’ aimed at ‘reinventing’ foster care (see Building a Better Abacus). I suggested that perhaps the whole concept of foster care, as an approach to protecting children, was an antiquated idea whose value had come and gone. My closing remarks included the promise that I would put forth some alternatives in future blogs. So here we go…..
Crisis Family Care. This is a notion that I’ve entertained for some time now. Imagine this….
Scattered throughout residential areas would be multiple family dwellings. There might be a four-plex in one area, a six-plex in another. These homes would be maintained by public or private agencies engaged in providing child welfare services.
Now imagine the point at which the police or child protective workers remove a child(ren) from the custody of their parent/guardian. Instead of driving away with child(ren) in tow, terrified at the prospect of being separated from their parent/guardian, homeless, or placed in some type of shelter group home, a different scenario plays out. A trained social worker sits down with the family and explains the concerns. The parent or guardian is then given an option; the child(ren) leave their home to go to a foster care arrangement or the family goes into crisis family care. (Of course, it needs a better name!) This is where the multi-family dwelling comes in. One of the units is occupied by one or more trained family support workers or couples. The other units are available for families in crisis. They are furnished and stocked with necessities such as diapers, milk, bread, etc.
There are on-call medical or trained intervention staff available if there is substance abuse involved to oversee detox, and monitor to ensure that drug and/or alcohol abuse is not continued. These professionals would assist with evaluating and connecting members of the family in need of substance abuse treatment. The family support worker, or couple, living in the unit would attend to the children if the parent or guardian is incapacitated.
The family would stay in this housing arrangement until all child protection issues are resolved and the children are believed to be safe from further abuse or neglect. It might be that some families do so well, they stay on, paying rent and/or serving as mentors to new families coming into the housing unit. Or they may return to an independent housing arrangement that has been negotiated in the course of service provision.
Are there details that would need to be worked out before something like this could happen? Absolutely. In considering this, I came up with a list of pros/cons types of issues that would be evaluated and/or resolved.
- The family stays together.
- The family is removed from a potentially dangerous situation and in some cases, from the temptation of readily available drugs/alcohol. Often the neighborhood contributes to the families’ problems (ie: drug traffic, poor living conditions, etc.).
- The children are spared the trauma of separation from their parent or guardian.
- The safety of the children, and adult(s) is monitored and evaluated daily.
- Families would be in healthy neighborhoods, surrounded by neighbors who are invested in maintaining a safe community (hopefully!).
- Community members increase their interest and engagement in preserving and supporting vulnerable families. Maybe some might ‘step up to the plate’ and become a ‘family mentor’, assisting families as they attempt to lead a healthy lifestyle in which children are nurtured and thrive.
- Expense: there is no doubt this would be a costly option.
- Some families may not be willing to enter into crisis family care. In these instances, the foster care approach may be necessary.
- There may be some risk involved for the family support workers; perhaps an abusive spouse or angry drug dealer would follow the family. This is a consideration that would need to be evaluated and perhaps a ‘safe house’ or domestic violence shelter would be more appropriate in these instances.
- It may be challenging to find family support workers/couples interested in this type of living situation. However, programs such as BoysTown have been managing similar arrangements so clearly there are people willing to be a part of the solution, both in their professional and personal lives and living arrangements.
In my ideal world, this might eventually evolve into an option that parents seek out voluntarily. If a parent is overwhelmed and unable to see a way out of the challenges they face on a daily basis, they might request the temporary housing and support needed to ‘get back on track’ and resolve the personal issues that can put their children at risk.
Please feel free to add your thoughts. Nothing is more energizing to me than a healthy exchange (and a bit of dreaming) about building a better child welfare system!