– Nancy (Foster Parent)
Much of this work typically falls to state caseworkers who have to balance a laundry list of tasks including managing placements, coordinating transitions, conducting regular check-ins, arranging visits, managing legal responsibilities and court orders, and arranging visits, just to name a few. This massive workload often does not leave them with the flexibility, time, or resources to provide the kind of support that foster children, their parents, and foster families need. That’s where Child Placement Agencies (or CPAs) come in.
CPAs support the work of the state agencies by supporting children, foster families and the state social worker. They are partners of the Department of Children, Youth & Families (DCYF) to have good outcomes for children and their families. Yet, their role is often misunderstood. This page is dedicated to clarifying the roles and benefits of CPAs.
There are thousands of children in foster care in Washington State, more than 8,800 as of January 2017. Over half of those children are under the age of five.
On average, children are in out-of-home care for a year and a half. Supporting them adequately takes a tremendous amount of time, energy, and resources. For state social workers, meeting these needs isn’t easy. Here are just a few reasons why:
Though every child in foster care shares the experience of being separated from their families and their homes, their stories and situations are incredibly unique. State social workers often do not have the time to offer the kind of individualized support families need to thrive.
State agencies work within a complex system where strict budgets and guidelines are necessary to maintain order and consistency. But, that also often means a lack of flexibility and resources, limiting state social workers from providing personalized support to the families and children they serve.
Before COVID-19, state agencies were already buried in large caseloads. But as the pandemic swept through Washington State, things only became more challenging.
Resources normally channeled through schools became restricted, in-person visits that supported reunification were reduced, and families had more concerns about placements due to health concerns. Managing those complications now and in the future — whether it’s a pandemic or a natural disaster or some other unexpected challenge — is nearly impossible when social workers already have little time to provide support.
CPAs exist to fill in the gaps state social workers cannot reach. They round out services so children have the direct help they need, foster parents are more supported, offer assistance to tackle unexpected challenges, provide personalized services that directly benefit children, families and foster families.
These private agencies recruit, and certify new families, place children in foster homes, and support the process of reunification. These are similar things state caseworkers do, but there is one key difference.
Because CPAs have smaller caseloads and more flexibility, they’re able to focus on developing meaningful personal relationships. The results are more personalized support for children, youth, families, and foster families, and relief for overwhelmed state caseworkers. Specifically, they help with:
Accelerating reunification – CPAs coordinate visits so that families can reunite faster. Because of the relationship CPAs have with the parents, children and foster families, they’re able to support visitation appointments more directly, and more effectively.
Stabilizing placements – When children cannot find stable placement it creates further trauma for the child, negatively affects developmental outcomes, chances for reunification, and their overall well-being. CPAs work to understand the unique needs of children and match them with foster families who are well-suited to provide for them.
Supporting Transitions – The foster care system is full of transitions, whether it’s reunification, adoption, exiting out-of-home care, or simply changing placement. CPAs provide one-on-one support that makes these transitions easier for youth and more successful for everyone involved.
Making Things Easier For Foster Parents – Because thousands of children enter out-of-home care every year, Washington State is always in need of more, qualified, well-supported foster parents. CPAs work closely with foster families from licensing through reunification.
Unlike state social workers many CPAs stick with foster parents between placements, so families can rely on working with someone who truly understands what they need in order to provide for a child in the best way possible.
— Cindy Steele, Child Placing Agencies (CPA) Division Chair at WACF
Cindy Steele works for Catholic Community Services and is a volunteer Division Chair for WACF’s CPA organizations. For Steele, being a CPA is about sharing the load with state agencies, acting as a team to provide the best possible resources for families who need help.
“We all work in this really heavy environment. What we do is get to know our foster families really well, so we can support them through the emotional roller coaster they’re on,” says Steele.
Steele also empathizes with state workers, because she knows they have a tremendous amount on their plate. In her mind, it’s a team effort, whether that means supporting the social worker with the management of a case or collaborating on particularly difficult situations that could use a helping hand. “We get involved with state workers and team up so no one person has to carry it all on their own,” Steele shares. “We all want to do our best for each child and family.”
WACF connects organizations looking to strengthen and support children and families in Washington State. Flexibility, a commitment to diversity, and the ability to build collaboration and community allows WACF to unify the voices of its members so they can work toward common goals.