DCFS tells lawmakers it wants to keep kids out of foster care
State child welfare officials on Wednesday told lawmakers they are working to reverse a decade-long trend toward putting at-risk kids in foster care, instead helping families at home and saving taxpayer money.
"Now, for the first time in years, more children are exiting than entering foster care," said Palmer DePaulis, executive director of the Department of Human Services, at a legislative interim committee meeting. "We’re going in the right direction and basing our alignment on the in-home model."
The shift comes after a January 2011 audit found the number of children in foster care has climbed 38 percent over the last decade — opposite of national trends and possibly what’s best for kids.
"Our concern is that the ball has shifted away from in-home services to foster care so much that it may be more costly to taxpayers and harmful for children," Audit Supervisor Maria Stahla told lawmakers.
One eye-popping comparison: It costs the state more than $46,000 for each foster care case, on average, while the average in-home services case costs just over $1,700.
"As an agency we don’t want to go into homes say ‘You’re screwing up, we’re taking the kids,’" said Division of Child and Family Services Director Brent Platt. "We want to do things to help you."
So why, as Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain asked, have the numbers gone in the opposite direction over the last 10 years?
Part of the reason is safety. Some children are simply not safe or can’t get the care they need at home, DePaulis said.
Another reason is money. While the federal government kicks in funds for foster care, it’s primarily the state that pays for in-home services.
"We’ve been under the gun, so to speak, to reduce our general fund services," DePaulis said.
But they’re moving forward regardless with pilot programs to increase in-home services in Ogden and Salt Lake City. DCFS is also centralizing its intake procedures, so kids in different regions of the state are brought under state care for the same reasons at the same rates.
"There is no in-home model out there," Platt said. "Caseworkers are excited about it, they’re nervous, they don’t want us to tell them what to do they want us to help them figure out ways to do it."
21 June 2012