By Alexandria Lahdya
Knowing where to invest early for the best payback is a tricky business for policy makers, but investing in foster children should be a no-brainer. Specialized foster care programs with higher initial investment costs are now showing impressive results and significantly lower total cost than regular foster care, so why aren’t we doing it?
“The fundamental roadblock of implementation is the upfront cost, even if you are able to identify and clarify the long term benefit,” said Gerard J. Bouwman President of TFC Consultants, Inc. and previous Chief Administrator for Oregon Social Learning Center for 17 years. “The costs precede the benefits; it’s a hurdle,”
In a study published in the January 2014 issue of Children and Youth Services Review, researchers at Kaiser Permanente Northwest and Oregon Social Learning Center found that Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care for Preschoolers, MTFC-P, can translate to long-term stability. Previous studies show a positive impact of specialized programs in foster care, showing the rate of successful attempts at placing children in permanent placements more than doubles with MTFC-P.
Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care for Preschoolers is different than regular foster care in which particular needs of each child and their foster parent aren’t addressed. Instead, MTFC-P teaches foster parents skills and knowledge to better care for their foster child. Over the course of MTFC-P in the study, children received intervention services for 9-12 months including a 12-hour parenting training for the foster caregiver.
With such positive results, why is implementation of Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care for Preschoolers hindered nationwide? In the current economic times, any issue of state funding is met with vast hurdles and roadblocks for financing programs with constrained public budgets. The welfare system has been particularly impacted and “funding for social service programs as a whole is not exactly expanding,” Bouwman said.
The 2014 study is the first to tackle these financial concerns; Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care for Preschoolers is cheaper in the long term than regular foster care. Intervention services cost an average of $6,168 per child out of the total foster care costs of $27,204. Simple math shows that the total foster care costs with MTFC-P is $2,886 less than total costs for regular foster care (which is $30,090). Total public agency costs are higher for regular foster care and permanency rates are lower.
The economic analysis of this study suggests that so-called “costly” treatment services result in less public agency spending in the long term due to the decrease in service costs that result from lack of permanency or unaddressed emotional and behavioral issues. Additionally, MTFC-P programs translate to less suffering for the child because permanency means a stable home and consistency throughout childhood. What funders don’t realize is that “improved attachment in these young children in MTFC-P created all kinds of savings later on,” Bouwman said.
MTFC-P programs have been successful abroad, particularly in England as well as domestically in Southern California. For two California examples of MTFC-P in action hit THIS LINK.
Alexandria Lahdya is a student of public health at the University of California, Berkeley. She wrote this story while taking the Journalism for Social Change Class.