SCAT! Typically scat is a word used to scare people away or deter their participation in something. This is not the case in the child welfare community in Springfield. The Sangamon County Action Team (SCAT) is a community-based group of individuals working to improve outcomes for children and families. These folks are committed to the work and refuse to “scat” when barriers to improvement present themselves.
The group has been active since 2008 and has convened some pretty dynamic events to educate and inform the community about the impact foster care has on children and families. In October 2010, a permanency forum was held to examine the role of stakeholders in indentifying strategies to improve outcomes. Over 100 participants attended who represented school, law enforcement, private agencies, DCFS, medical, community members, and families involved in the child welfare system. A panel of experts discussed the current barriers to timely permanency and the disproportionate number of children of color in care. Valuable feedback was gathered and included in subsequent SCAT meetings as focus items.
On July 19, 2011, SCAT hosted a conference on permanency. The target audience was members of the legal community, service providers, and child welfare professionals. An AOIC grant was secured to fund the conference and continuing education credits were awarded, including MCLE’s for attorneys. Experts from the Illinois Childhood Trauma Coalition presented interesting information about trauma and the impact it has on child development. The practice of brain mapping was introduced to the audience through visual representations of brain scans completed on children who suffered trauma through abuse and neglect compared to scans of children who had not experienced trauma. It was illuminating evidence of how the children we serve are at risk for life-long complications in functioning. The highlight of the conference was the personal testimony of a young woman who emancipated out of the system. Her insight into the impact of foster care placements, changing workers, and never experiencing the love and support of a permanent family left the participants ready to reaffirm their commitment to strengthening families and seeking timely permanency.
Despite the success of SCAT’s community education events, the outcomes for children continue to deteriorate in Sangamon County. The median length of stay in foster care is 42 months. The average number of days between the Shelter Care and Adjudicatory hearings is 144. For a child being discharged to reunification, his stay averages 21 months. The average time from removal to adoption is 48 months. African-American children represent about 18% of the child population in Sangamon County; however, they represent 57% of all the children in care. These data elements are staggering and seem horrific from a child’s perspective. SCAT members feel that same horror and have set goals to address these issues. The outline of the goals will be presented to community stakeholders and child welfare personnel in late September and early October 2013. The official implementation date is November 1st. Outcome measures will be tracked and monitored by the SCAT membership.
Specific strategies include reducing the time between Shelter Care and Adjudication by 3 months, decreasing the amount of time from termination to adoption, and increasing efforts to involve parents in case planning. Investigators will focus on getting reports to the court by day 45 so negotiations can occur between the ASA and the Public Defender. Permanency staff will work to increase parent/child visits and parent/worker visits and try to have those visits occur in the home of parent whenever possible. There will be an increased use of Child and Family Team meetings to engage all the stakeholders and move cases forward. Early and continuous parental engagement will be paramount. Adoption and guardianship subsidies will be required to be written by day 60 after termination and change of goal respectively. A poignant but yet simplistic strategy the team will employ is to have all court reports contain a cover sheet that identifies the length of time the child has been in care. The premise is to remind all the stakeholders involved in the child’s life what the impact of a stay in foster care has…on the child!