Children referred to CCR have various needs, ranging in age from 3 to 18, and many are sibling groups. Matching children with foster parents can be a difficult task. CCR's matching process is designed to produce successful outcomes for foster youth and parents. It aims to provide a safe and risk-free environment for the child while enabling foster parents to use learned trauma-informed care parenting skills.
What does the matching process look like, and what do we look for in potential foster parents?
We spoke with Brian Sullivan, Referral Coordinator at CCR, for 21 years to help us understand.
As the Referral Coordinator, I am the primary contact for all of our contract counties and agencies who wish to make a referral for CCR foster care services. A county agency will contact me if a child or sibling group needs out-of-home placement. They may not have the resources within their county to meet their needs. My primary job is to gather as much information about the child as possible, including requirements, history, and presenting issues, so I understand the type of home that would be best for the child. I then carefully consider the pool of foster parents I have available for any potential matches. My search is based on an in-depth understanding of our foster parents and what I know about the child's needs.
Some things to consider are:
I receive 40-50 referrals each month from counties and tribes throughout Wisconsin. Unfortunately, I can place a tiny percentage of those children. Primarily due to the lack of licensed foster families. I would say that only 15-20% of those kids are placed into a safe, loving home. At CCR, our foster care matching process has been fine-tuned to ensure that the needs of the young people in our care are always the priority. Despite my best efforts, which often include other team members, there are many cases in which a match is not found, and the referral is passed back to the referring agency. Unfortunately, the ongoing shortage of Wisconsin foster parents means that we don’t always have a family available that can meet the child's needs in question.
The distinction between basic county level and treatment level foster care is the service provision level to the child and the foster family. For example, a child in a county foster home may not receive intensive services. A county worker may visit the house once per month. Whereas in treatment level foster care, we have Clinical Case Managers assigned to that home to visit the child and parents every week. They help support the placement, help the foster parents manage the child in care, and help keep the placement stable.
There are different levels of treatment foster care homes. The levels speak to each family's level of experience and degree of training. It is something I must keep in mind when matching children with families. I must ensure they are at a level of expertise or skill to manage the child successfully.
Over the last number of years, predominately due to the Opioid crisis and more recently due to Covid disruptions, we have seen a noticeable increase in the number of sibling groups displaced from their family homes. In addition, the need to locate homes for teen girls and boys continues to increase. Many new foster parents are cautious about fostering teens. However, many foster parents find the older youth less challenging than younger kids. Regardless of the ages and behaviors of kids placed, we have strict flexibility requirements that our foster parents must adhere to. Being available to kids when youth are not in school is a significant part of providing a structured, stable environment to heal. Most of our youth are school age, and many are teens. Typically toddlers are placed when part of a sibling group.
Yes, I work very closely with the potential family and arrange an opportunity to meet the child. We schedule a pre-placement visit. These visits are typically overnights or weekends. They allow foster parents to meet the child and learn about the child as much as possible to make a well-informed decision on whether or not to pursue the placement. The visits also help with the transition so that the child knows a little about the family before joining them.
The decision to accept or decline a child is always up to the foster family. I do my best to provide all the information I can get to make the best choice for their family. Keeping in mind, a placement can last anywhere from 12-24 months and often longer. I am also working closely with the referring agency and county worker during this time, ensuring good communication. We also continue to gather any additional information we can about the referral.
I think the handholding myself and our team does during the decision-making process helps foster parents to feel confident and secure. It's a process not to be taken lightly. I want them to feel they got everything they needed from me. I hope they feel supported whether they accept a child into their home. If they take placement, our promise to support them 24/7 begins immediately. I believe that all of our families value that higher level of support.
When foster parents keep an open mind to different types and ages of kids, it offers them more unique experiences as foster parents. The greatest need is to locate foster homes for teenage girls and boys. Homes for adolescent boys and girls are very scarce across the entire state. Thus county agencies are having a very tough time placing these kids in out-of-home care. The other area of need is for larger sibling groups. When there is a sibling group of 3 or 4 or 5 kids, it is especially challenging to find one family that can accommodate a group of that size; either logistically or practically speaking, much less just the general responsibility it all entails. There is a great need for resources for these kids.
I want our foster parents to know that our role is to support them. Getting them to a place where they feel confident and assured that they can do this. We do that through our initial training process and ongoing training opportunities. Also, foster parents need to know that we aren't going to force them into a decision or plug a kid into their home. Ultimately, they will have every opportunity to learn and know about every child as much as they can before they are expected to make any decision about accepting a child into their home.
Ultimately, what is most important to know is the decision is theirs, and we will never make that decision for them.
We understand that fostering a vulnerable child or sibling group can be a complex and challenging process. Many foster children come from difficult backgrounds and have heightened behaviors and emotions. These emotional and behavioral challenges require ongoing management and can be challenging for both the child and the foster parents. Because our Clinical Case Managers are in the home weekly, breakdowns and disruptions are often avoided.
Older children are encouraged to speak with their Clinical Case Manager. The CCM, in turn, will typically talk with both the youth and the foster parent to understand where the placement is breaking down and implement steps to try and build these areas back up. Well-planned meetings seek to find solutions and strategies for remedying the situation and resolving problems with the placement while considering the child's best interests. A 30-day notice to move the child may be unavoidable if this doesn't work.
CCR is committed to improving the outcomes of all the children and youth placed in our care. We have dedicated, compassionate team members with decades of field experience working diligently with our foster parents and county agencies to provide each child with the most suitable, safe home.
If you would like to learn more about CCR and becoming a foster parent, please explore our website or contact us anytime. We are glad to answer your questions and provide more details.