Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) issued a report last week estimating that the department spends two million staff hours facilitating another four million hours of “visitation” every year.
When a child is removed from the custody of his or her parent due to abuse and neglect, a key part of the reunification process is ensuring that child can visit with his or her parent.
“If the ultimate goal is to have children live with their parents or live with their family, they have to see each other and build trust and love,” said Brandon Nichols, DCFS’ acting director.
Many of these visits are monitored, providing the courts with critical information that helps judicial officers decide whether or not a child can be safely returned home.
But in a county like Los Angeles, where the 10,000 children receiving reunification services are shuttled across tens of thousands of miles of road, visitation is a logistical nightmare. Reunification takes an average of 10.2 months in L.A. County, almost twice as long as the national average of 5.2 months.
In recognition of both the critical importance and the crippling immensity of administering these visits, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors issued a motion in September of last year directing DCFS to come up with a plan to help speed up the reunification process. Half a year later, the department delivered.
The goal, according to the report, is what the department is calling “visitation coaching.”
“Visitation Coaching will allow an opportunity to honor the pre-existing bond, and minimize the impact of removal while at the same time develop parent capacity specifically in the areas that led to removal,” the report reads.
To get there, the department is asking the Board of Supervisors for at least $1.5 million to hire 18 new administrators to serve as “air traffic-controllers” coordinating visits. It also outlines a pilot that relies on a church in Pasadena, and is hopeful that a “foster care hackathon” in April will help speed the application of technological solutions.
The report also stresses the importance of the county’s 243 human service aides (HSAs) who spend 75 percent of their time monitoring and driving to and from visits. Another 86 HSA positions “are in the process of being filled.”
But given the immensity of the visitation challenge, these aides are not nearly enough to handle it all. The department also reimburses foster parents and other caregivers to transport children to visits, which often take place in one of the county’s 18 regional offices.
To help free up more of the aides’ time, the DCFS plan requests funds to hire 18 new children’s services administrators. These administrators are intended to be the point person for each office, scheduling transportation for children, parents and caregivers; working with the faith-based community and foster family agencies; and helping to develop visitation centers.
“This sort of meaningful and purposeful visitation planning will ideally result in positive visitation and reunification outcomes,” the report reads.
By Daniel Heimpel
14 March 2017