Goal is to prevent children from entering system
Glenn County is looking to improve its services to children within its child welfare system by preventing them from getting into it in the first place.
The Board of Supervisors approved a system improvement plan last week that should run the next five years with annual updates.
Human Resource Agency Director Scott Gruendl explained that the plan wants to use various federal and state funding sources to help keep families out of the child court and foster care systems through prevention efforts.
It also wants to lower the number of children coming back into the system, and help those leaving foster care at 18 transition into adulthood, he said.
The plan's number one focus is keeping children from being maltreated within the first six to 12 months of being reunited with their families, Gruendl said, which would lead to their re-entering foster care.
It has set a goal to have nine less families re-enter the system following a recurrence of maltreatment, he said. This would raise the number who do not have substantiated referrals from 83.3 percent to 94.4 percent.
The transition to adulthood is another area Glenn County wishes to address with state funding.
In the past, once a teen turned 18 or graduated from high school, he or she was emancipated from the foster care system, Gruendl said.
Today, state law permits services for these young people until they are 21, he said.
This means their apartments will be paid for the first year after they leave the system, and assistance will be provided to send them to college or help them find employment.
Glenn County presently contracts with a company in Butte County to help these teens find an apartment, he said.
As they grow older, they begin to pay some of the rent until they ultimately can pay for it themselves through having jobs or an education, Gruendl added.
His agency also wants to help the probation department with this program, he said, since those on probation may need more support.
They have a higher probability of being incarcerated, but "We can save county resources by keeping them out of county jail," Gruendl said.
Two other improvement goals revolve around timely social worker visits and re-entry into the system following re-unification with the family after a longer period.
Social workers are supposed to visit with a foster child at least once a month, he said. However, because of low staffing they sometimes go 40 days.
Placements in foster care outside Glenn County also factor into this issue since Glenn does not have any group homes and only a limited number of foster families to take in these children.
The plan wishes to decrease the percentage of children re-entering following reunification with the family or a relative from 20.6 percent to 9.5 percent, Gruendl said.
Again, prevention and education are deemed the keys to improving these services and keeping people out of the system, he said.
He said a number of agencies are involved in this effort including mental health, child services, health services and other sections under the HRA.
But communication between these divisions is often hampered by confidentiality laws which stops them from sharing information readily, officials said.
Yet education on services is important to the people entering the system.
About 90 percent of the families involved in child welfare cases have drug or alcohol issues, Gruendl said, and he hopes to use money from a federal program to help them get counseling among other services.
It also could pay for drug and alcohol assessments in individuals who cannot afford the fee, he added.
Community Based Child Abuse Prevention program money is used to pay for the Family Resource Fair. the coordinator for the Inter-agency Coordinating Council and other services.
Yet Gruendl and his staff wish to use some of that money for parent education to teach parents about the courts and what they need to do to get their children back.
"Often, it is a mystery to them," he said, compounded by the fact child court proceedings are closed.
As a result, they don't know how to prepare for court or find an attorney who is knowledgeable in child welfare.
Gruendl said he would like to use alumni parents from the child welfare system to help educate or help those entering it through mentor relationships.
He also wants to create a video where a judge explains the process to families involved in child court proceedings.
And he wants to help educate families sitting in the lobby at the Orland court about the system, he said.
Finally, the HRA will spend money from the County Children's Trust Fund for some of these educational programs.
That fund is paid for with a portion of a birth certificate fee charged Glenn County residents when they give birth to a child.
The fund presently has about $30,000 in it, Gruendl said, after several years of growing.
Now, the state wants it to be spent annually, he said, so the amount will drop to $10,000 or $12,000 a year within a couple of years.