Idaho’s Office of Performance Evaluations (OPE) published an evaluation in February 2017 that points to performance gaps between policy expectations and realities in Idaho’s child welfare system. Suggesting that this is an ongoing struggle needing to be addressed with a system-wide oversight entity, the evaluation showed gaps in four major areas: out-of-home placement, workload challenges, organizational culture, and a systems approach that hinders Idaho’s child welfare system from performing at its highest potential. In a message at the beginning of the report, OPE’s Director, Rakesh Mohan, states that, “A legislative standing committee is one option that states have used to establish this oversight with ongoing accountability, visibility, and accessibility.”
In regards to out-of-home placement, Idaho faces a shortage of available foster parents and homes. While recruitment is an important element, retention is noted as a better solution to the problem as foster parents are currently quitting at virtually the same rate as Children and Family Services has been able to amass new recruits. In a two-year span, from March 2014 to March 2016, Idaho’s number of licensed foster parents decreased by 8 percent, a loss of 88 foster parents total.
OPE’s recommendation is that Child and Family Services develop a strategic, durable plan that focuses on identifying the number of foster parents needed by region and that prescribes the additional resources necessary for their recruitment. A bolstered retention plan would also include an emphasis on the relationships between foster parents and social workers, their communication, and continued and reliable supports for foster parents.
The report says that 87 percent of staff from Child and Family Services say that cases are worked inefficiently and problems arise when social workers do not have the time necessary to devote to each of their cases, a sentiment echoed among judges, foster parents, children’s advocates, and others who work within the child welfare system. A workload analysis conducted in 2007 by Child and Family Services showed a need for a 36 percent increase in staff; it has since grown support staff by about 10 percent.
According to the evaluation, OPE considers workload to be a critical factor in the performance of Child and Family Services staff and remarks that reducing workload is a high priority with no easy fix. Among the recommendations for addressing these challenges are examining processes for efficiency, continuing reward-driven opportunities for advancement to address retention, identifying and confronting shortages, and the exploration of strengthening external processes with partners and stakeholders.
For example, a pilot program between Child and Family Services and the courts allowed video conferences in hearings for social workers, permitting the continued work of social workers while addressing the issue of inefficiencies surrounding uncertain court hearing times.
While the commitment to and focus on children and families is what distinguishes the culture of Child and Family Services, the report says, this becomes strained when staff are overwhelmed with demands and the expectations of partners and stakeholders differ. In a survey of staff from Child and Family Services, 94 percent stated their belief that all staff are committed to improving the situations for children and families in their caseload. The organizational culture, though, is also one of compromise when met with limited resources and tough requests. To remedy this, OPE suggests the ongoing assessment of operations by Child and Family Services, addressing problematic aspects, and the commitment among staff to the response of the wants and needs of partners and stakeholders.
While child welfare services have in place an array of systems and agencies, a lack of system-wide oversight means there are gaps in accountability and functionality. As stated in the report, “Cooperation, coordination, and collaboration are critical for an interrelated and interdependent system such as child welfare to function well,” and it is an oversight structure that is essential for efficient system-level outcomes. In its absence, Idaho’s child welfare system experiences unclear results and scattered opportunities for improvement, according to the report. Such entities have been created in other states through special legislative committees and can be looked at by Idaho to model a system of its own.
To access the full evaluation report, click here.