Child, Youth and Family Services Minister Charlene Johnson speaks at the Canadian Foster Family Association Conference held this week in St. John’s. — Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
Child, Youth and Family Services Minister Charlene Johnson received a standing ovation from attendees of a conference focused on foster care, following her announcement of her department’s plan to improve foster care and eliminate the need for alternate living arrangements (ALA).
But those who came to St. John’s for the Canadian Foster Family Association Conference will have to wait two years to see whether government’s $18.4-million investment in the new strategy merits the applause.
Under the new system, four levels of foster care were developed based on the experience, training and skills of foster parents.
“While there will still be an assessment of the child or youth’s needs, it will be for the purpose of matching them to a home that has the skills required to meet their needs,” said Johnson.
ALAs are homes staffed on an emergency basis in the event a foster home cannot be found.
Johnson said 39 youth were in ALAs as of last week, though that figure has been as high as 72 in recent months.
“Staff work really hard on finding new homes, but sometimes on a Friday you can get four or five from one family, so it’s different everyday,” said Johnson, who hopes to see ALAs eliminated within the next two years.
The strategy includes a substantial increase in funds for those foster homes receiving the Child Welfare Allowance.
Those homes, which fall under the first level of foster care known as the kinship level, will now receive up to $915 per month, depending on the age of the child, up from between $318 per month for children from birth to age 11 and $380 for ages 12 to 18 years.
The rate is higher for foster care providers in Labrador, totalling to as much as $1,190 in remote areas of that region.
Kinship homes include those with relatives or significant others and non-relative homes approved to provide foster care on an interim basis.
“The first and ideal place, the research has shown, is with a significant other or relative,” said Johnson. “The costs are no different to rear up the child, so that’s why we’re recognizing that in this, and we really hope this will encourage and increase the number of child welfare homes, now called kinship homes.”
Currently, there are 641 foster homes in Newfoundland and Labrador and 400 child welfare homes. According to the Foster Families Survey recently released by the province, 62 per cent of youth in foster care are not placed in their home community. In Labrador, Johnson said many children are sent to foster homes in St. Anthony. For the other levels of care, a standard fee will be used instead of a special needs assessment rate.
The next level after kinship homes will be foster homes that have completed Parents’ Resources for Information, Development and Education. Johnson said the majority of foster homes in the province will be at this level.
Homes will receive the basic foster care rate each month plus other child-specific costs, block funding based on average costs, a $600 level fee and a portion of the child tax credit.
The first two levels will come into effect in January 2013.
The third level is specialized foster homes which can accommodate children and youth with complex needs and that have a stay-at-home foster parent.
Homes will receive the same benefits as a level two home, except the standard fee is increased to $1,600.
Homes eligible for weekend respite work at the second and third levels will also receive an increased rate of pay.
The fourth level involves contracted staffed residential services for youth with the most complex needs. Johnson said details relating to that level will be released in the fall.
At all levels, social workers will visit the homes each month, she said.
Four new employees have been hired by the department to help assess where current foster families fit under the new level system.
“No family will lose any money in this,” said Johnson. “The majority will get an increase, but nobody will get a decrease.”
Whereas foster families in the past have been reimbursed for receipts, from now on they will receive block funding.
“It’s about giving them the money up front and letting them do what they think is best for the child, at the same time having that accountability built in,” she said.
Johnson added it will reduce administrative work for the families and allow them to focus more on caring for children and youth.
Pre-existing foster families may continue to use receipt based reimbursement if they choose to do so, while all new families will be required to accept block funding.