Monday, September 13, 2010

North Dakota's Attempts at Foster Care Reform

A description of a North Dakota "family preservation initiative" that seeks to reform the foster care system:

North Dakota is at the forefront of a new trend in the way foster care is administered: Don't put children in foster care.

The idea is to help families help themselves so they can keep their children, rather than having a judge order them into the foster care system.

When children stay with their families, they typically do better in school, and the odds of them aging out of the foster care system and struggling with adult life free of the assistance they received before are diminished, said Gary Wolsky, president and CEO of The Village Family Service Center in Fargo.

"The problems get costlier to fix if left untended," Wolsky said. "Prevention is always cheaper."

The effort could save taxpayers a bundle because it's more expensive to put a child through foster care than it is to help the whole family, Wolsky said.

The family preservation initiative has also grabbed the attention of some North Dakota lawmakers, who say they hope to see the idea take off in the state.

"In the long run, I think it will cost us less money," said Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo.

North Dakota lawmakers have had an eye on early family intervention since 2006, when a pilot family empowerment program the Family Group Decision Making Program was started.

This puts an emphasis on child safety, permanency, and placing foster children in adoption as soon as necessary, which may include terminating parental rights of biological parents. There are still times when, for a variety of reasons and despite additional help, parents are not able to adequately care for a child.

It costs an estimated $3,000 to $4,000 for one family to participate in family preservation programs. This method tends to cost less over the long term because foster children usually spend an average of a year in foster care, said Sandi Zaleski, who works for The Village and is the director for these programs.

On the flip side, a foster family with a 10-year-old could get up to $752 a month, which adds up to $9,024 a year, not including other expenses.

Read more here.

AC

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