Issue: Approximately 1,100 Los Angeles County foster youth transition out of care and into the community each year as adults. Though federal law requires that the foster care system ensure every youth age 14 and older has a “transition plan” detailing where they will live, work and attend school once they leave care, these plans are often incomplete, or lacking altogether. Without these plans, many foster youth are left to navigate young adulthood without the guidance or necessary supports and services they, like any other young person, need to reach self-sufficiency.

Solution: To address this problem, ExtraordinaryFamilies partnered with the Alliance for Children’s Rights, the Children’s Law Center, and the Edelman Children’s Court to perform a comprehensive assessment of transition planning practices in Los Angeles County and identify areas for improvement. Our assessment provided a wealth of information. (Click here to read our report)

Changing Practices: We worked with judges, attorneys, social workers, and foster youth to implement better practices for transition planning at court. As a result of our work, we witnessed clear improvements in courtroom practices for the development of transition plans for youth. In our initial assessment, only 50% of youth ages 14-21 had a complete plan for their transition to adulthood; after working in our pilot courtroom, this percentage increased to 89%.

Issue: With the nation’s largest child welfare system, Los Angeles County cares for one of the largest populations of foster children with severe mental disabilities and behavioral disorders. Foster children with mental disabilities often experience among the poorest outcomes after leaving care, and require highly trained and specialized care to ensure their safety, health, and wellbeing. Therapeutic foster homes allow children with mental disabilities to live with specially trained foster parents and receive comprehensive support that addresses children’s individual needs. Though Los Angeles County requires more of these homes, they are difficult to recruit, and can be difficult to retain as well.

Solution: To address the need for additional therapeutic foster parents in Los Angeles County, ExtraordinaryFamilies worked with the County’s 12 foster family agencies that provide therapeutic foster care to develop and share effective practices and build collective capacity to recruit and support these parents (Click here to read our report).

Changing Practices: ExtraordinaryFamilies and its partners held focus groups and conducted reviews of research to uncover motivations behind foster parenting and determine effective recruitment strategies. ExtraordinaryFamilies brought together its partners through workshops focused on developing and sharing effective strategies to recruit additional individuals to be therapeutic foster parents. As a result of our collective efforts, our partners surpassed 100 recruited therapeutic foster homes, and significantly improved the retention of these homes.

Issue: Of Los Angeles County foster youth who turn 18 each year while still in care, relatively few access transitional housing and supportive services. ExtraordinaryFamilies identified that overly restrictive policies and program admission requirements were preventing many of the highest-risk foster youth from accessing or taking full advantage of the programs that could help them the most.

Solution: ExtraordinaryFamilies partnered with Los Angeles County’s leading youth service providers, government agencies, policymakers, and others to assess case planning, service provision, and strategies for youth success and satisfaction, and developed our Best Practices Framework for serving older foster youth (click here to read the full report).

Changing Policy: Through this collaborative, ExtraordinaryFamilies and its partners were able to reform some of Los Angeles County’s key practices in serving foster youth. These included:

  • Increasing the length of time a youth may spend in an Independent Living Program from 24 to 26 months
  • Reforming rules increasing program flexibility in using County dollars, allowing programs to leverage private funds
  • Removing a requirement that 50% of youth entering a common transitional housing program (THP+) be employed
  • Revising an interview requirement to focus on youth needs and to reduce screening out of high-needs youth

Caregivers often lack critical information and guidance when trying to navigate the complexities of child welfare systems. We partnered with the Edelman Children’s Court, Grandparents as Parents, the Children’s Law Center, the Alliance for Children’s Rights and others, to establish a Caregiver Center directly in the courthouse.

Since its opening in March 2010, the Caregiver Center has provided peer advising for caregivers, expanded kincare providers’ knowledge of juvenile court procedure and policy, and allowed kincare providers access to court committees, judicial officers, and foster care administrators.

A Relative Caregiver Training curriculum has been designed, outlining the foster care process, the range of essential community-based services and programs that are available for children and families in kinship care both in and outside the child welfare system, and critical decision points for kinship families that impact their own and their children’s future.

Kincare providers have difficulty getting medical assessments and treatment services that children in their care require.

We partnered with the LAC+USC VIP medical hub to expand assessment and treatment services for children in kinship foster care and unrelated foster care.

For example, medical assessments and available treatment have been expanded for 0-5 year olds in foster kincare or under kinship guardianship without existing medical assessments; children in foster kincare or under kinship guardianship without access to adequate medical/mental health services in their own communities; children who have been involved multiple times with the child welfare system; and children investigated by DCFS but diverted from foster care detention or re-detention, most commonly through informal placement with family members.

We partnered with Grandparents as Parents and the Boys & Girls Club to expand support for kinship families and children in Los Angeles County’s Watts/Willowbrook neighborhood.

For kinship families in and outside the child welfare system, the support group offers teen mentoring, afternoon and weekend respite care, and joint kinship caregiver and children activities.

Older youth in foster care face tremendous challenges as they begin their transition out of the child welfare system. These young people need assistance in navigating a complex array of systems and services as they leave foster care.

We have worked with the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare to match graduate social work students with foster youth. Graduate social work students are assigned these youth’s cases through local Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) programs and assist young people as they move closer to leaving state care.

UC Berkeley has supported the program with a new field course and supervising professor. UCB’s graduate students have proven to be reliable, able, and proactive CASA volunteers in addressing some of the greatest complexities of foster children’s cases.

Los Angeles County is not serving former foster youth effectively. County contracts to assist former foster youth with housing, education, and employment often result in wasted dollars and effort.

Working with county agencies, we removed provisions in public contracts that required:

1) all former foster youth to be signed up for public assistance, such as food stamps and general relief, regardless of whether youth need those services, and

2) services that had no relationship to youths’ actual housing, employment, and education needs.