High Hopes for Extended Care in Rhode Island: The Importance of Implementation to Doing Extended Foster Care Right

Jennifer Pokempner, Child Welfare Policy Director,

This is a post in our “Doing Extended Care Right” blog series. Each blog highlights promising aspects of a state's extended foster care program. We hope this series will lead to conversations and reforms around extended foster care so that these systems provide youth what they need to make a successful transition to adulthood and stay connected to their communities. To learn more about extended foster care laws and policies, visit our National Extended Foster Care Review.

In this blog we focus on the importance of a deliberate implementation process that includes stakeholders as an important aspect of an effective extended care program.  

 

To be successful, extended care systems cannot just be three more years of care. States should have extended foster care systems that provide youth with the skills, resources, and relationships that serve as a foundation to a successful entrance into the adult world. Youth need hard and soft skills to make it as an adult, but they will also need to be connected to family and community for their success to be sustainable.

To have a shot at supporting youth, extended care systems must engage youth and be respectful of their status as young adults, as well as their need for continued support. Effective systems must take into account the impact of trauma on service delivery as well as be informed by adolescent development.

This month Rhode Island joined the majority of states by including extended foster care in its Fiscal Year 2019 budget. Article 15 of the budget amends state law to create a voluntary extended care program and the option for re-entry for youth between ages 18 and 21. 

Highlights of the law include:

  • Youth are notified of the opportunity to remain in care as part of the transition planning process.
  • All five of the Fostering Connections participation/eligibility categories are included.
  • Youth who entered adoptions and guardianship arrangements when they are age 16 or older are included in the program.
  • Voluntary placement agreements are used to extend care and encourage the active engagement of youth.
  • Continued legal representation and court oversight is provided.
  • Young adults in extended care have access to vocational assessments and an array of job training programs and services if they elect. 

Stakeholders—including young people—and law makers in Rhode Island worked hard to draft and pass a good piece of legislation that provides the structure for extended foster care.

Rhode Island has a long history of providing innovative services for older youth. They had extended foster care up until 2007. In addition, they have had a robust system of aftercare for youth who have aged out, and the state has developed many effective programs for connecting youth to the workforce. These factors indicate Rhode Island is well positioned to “do extended care right.” 

How this well-written law is implemented will determine the system's effectiveness for and responsiveness to young adults. Enacting good laws and policies is a crucial first step. Designing the practices and details that will ensure the impact of the law is felt by young people is often challenging and takes discussion and planning.

Rhode Island—and any state implementing extended care—can benefit from lessons learned from other states that have had extended foster care programs for several years. In fact, one of the biggest lessons learned from states is that having a thoughtful and deliberative implementation plan is worth the investment of time and planning. Developing policies and practices to engage emerging adults and respond to their developmental needs is challenging and demands changes in thinking and service delivery that are not easy for systems structured to serve minors. States that have had a coordinated process for implementation—and, especially those that did not—have learned this lesson.

Designing an implementation plan not only allows states to think through the details and mechanics of implementation, but also creates buy-in and opportunities to educate and engage the stakeholders necessary for effective implementation. Implementation provides space for deliberate planning and problem solving. California, Nebraska, and Ohio are examples of states that engaged in structured implementation processes for their extended foster care programs, and each provides some key takeaways. 

California had an implementation process that was led by the state child welfare agency but included community stakeholders at all levels of planning. In addition to having a steering committee, coordinating team, and broad community input, much of the work was done through five focus area teams: program and placement; eligibility and rates; court practice; training; and administrative and fiscal. These focus areas reflect core elements and considerations for any extended care program. These teams made recommendations and assisted with the development of policy and other materials related to the focus areas.

Ohio engaged in a process that shared some features with California. The process was facilitated by Voices for Ohio’s Children and coordinated its work in the following focus areas: eligibility; placement; administration; case review; case management; and data. The work groups generated key questions with corresponding detailed recommendations related to policy and practice. These recommendations had an impact on policy, including requests for proposals for grantees to provide services, placement, and case management for the extended care program.

Nebraska’s implementation processes for its extended care program, Bridges to Independence, included an advisory committee that continues to monitor implementation. The Bridges to Independence Advisory Committee was created by statute and meets bi-annually. It provides an annual report to the legislature that makes recommendations about implementation, program improvement, and growth. The advisory committee must include: representatives from all three branches of government; no less than three young adults currently or previously in foster care; one or more representatives from a child welfare advocacy organization; one or more representatives from a child welfare service agency; and one or more representatives from an agency providing independent living services.  The advisory committee's annual report includes detailed information about the population in extended care in Nebraska, identifies trends and areas that need focus. 

Lessons about implementation of extended foster care from California, Ohio, and Nebraska include the following:

  1. Involving young people in implementation planning and developing an ongoing feedback loop for young people and stakeholders as implementation proceeds is central to success. 
  2. Conducting an inventory of their placement and service array and proactively addressing any gaps is important for systems committed to quality extended care.
  3. Considering the administrative and fiscal processes that need to be in place to establish eligibility and allow for maximization of available funds is important to think about early.
  4. Training stakeholders and ensuring a unified message around the goals of extended care and the centrality of the engagement of young people is key to effective implementation success. It is the glue that guides the practice that is desired.
  5. Ensuring all policy and practice that is created must be informed by adolescent development and be trauma informed is vital. Without this, we build systems that young people will not opt into or will not thrive in. 

We look forward to seeing the good work that Rhode Island will do in the coming year as its extended care program begins!

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