Even though the weather is growing warmer, sunnier, and increasing everyone's happy dispositions, I have found myself mulling over the cold, hard facts of the child protection system in our state. A few weeks ago, the Office of Performance Evaluation (OPE) presented on their investigation into the child welfare system in Idaho. They uncovered some new information but the simple bottom line is: the system needs improvement. We couldn't agree more, and we include ourselves in that evaluation.
The report offers input from the courts, foster parents, Guardians ad Litem, and the Department of Health and Welfare. The outlook is not great. As we see an increase in kids involved in the child protection system, we also see a decrease in the number of available foster homes (8% decrease between 2014-2017), as well as the continued struggle to find volunteer Guardians for each case. While the report did not go into the CASA program in-depth, it did highlight one area that I found interesting. Of the individuals surveyed by OPE, 77% of Guardians ad Litem said that CASA is an effective source of accountability to the court with 41% of foster parents and 26% of case workers agreeing with that statement.
Those percentages don't worry me. Our Guardians are in court to represent the best interests of children; not the best interests of the biological parents, the foster parents, or the Department of Health and Welfare. Our amazing volunteers work in professional collaboration with each of these groups and value the input of each party to the case, but we are there to present information on behalf of the children.
A few of the recommendations from OPE include; 1) establish a legislative working group to monitor and evaluate the child welfare system, 2) the Department of Health and Welfare should bring in a consultant to assess the organization's culture and address gaps between expectations and practice, and 3) create a comprehensive plan to increase the number of foster homes through recruitment and retention. As a side note, the evaluators also recommended an independent investigation into the CASA programs around the state. Our team here welcomes any audit, investigation, or evaluation that makes us a more effective and efficient program to serve children and families.
In the meantime, we will continue to help children find a healthy home by recruiting 120 more volunteer Guardians for our CASA program or sending folks to PRIDE training to learn how to become a foster home.
If you would like to read the entire OPE report, all 154 pages can be found through this link: https://legislature.idaho.gov/wp-content/uploads/OPE/Reports/r1701.pdf.