Riverside County Connects Enhanced Foster Caregivers to Kids with Trauma, Complex Needs; New Partnership with Seneca Family of Agencies Helps Fill Need for Higher Levels of Care.
RIVERSIDE COUNTY — Children’s Services is partnering with the nonprofit Seneca Family of Agencies to provide enhanced foster caregivers for Riverside County children and youth who require specialized care through mental health, education, placement, and permanency services.
“The enhanced caregiver, also called a professional parent, is part of Riverside County’s commitment to bringing trauma-informed services to children who—without them—are likely to face lifelong negative impacts,” said Charity Douglas, assistant director of Children’s Services in the nation’s tenth most populous county.
Douglas hopes the pilot program will grow to serve more Riverside County children in their home communities. She called the one-on-one bond that grows between the child and a skilled and supported caregiver “a godsend, an answer, for children who have the deepest and hardest needs.”
Last year, California officials began requiring child welfare agencies to develop local alternatives for foster children and youth with severe mental and behavioral health needs that had previously been referred to out-of-state residential programs. More recently, state funding has encouraged counties to launch pilot programs to create more specialized foster homes.
Among the roughly 4,500 Riverside County children in foster care, most live in traditional settings while social workers seek to reunify them with their families or find permanent placement. However, some children cycle through homes and facilities where their behaviors are too self-destructive, disruptive, or dangerous to stay.
Bridgette Hernandez, a deputy director in Children’s Services, credits the enhanced caregiver model with filling a critical gap in Riverside County’s continuum of care—the range of services the county can offer to foster children and families.
“This model aligns with the state’s focus, and most importantly, it’s the right thing to do for children,” Hernandez said. “It also helps our social workers who are up at night with our children experiencing this trauma right along with them.”
The enhanced foster caregiver must be willing and comfortable working within a constellation of healing professionals working together for the child’s wellbeing and to prevent placement disruption.
Enhanced foster caregivers receive extensive training as well as ongoing individual coaching. They earn a monthly stipend, just like a traditional foster parent, that is funded by a state set foster care rate and supplemented through an intensive county partnership that includes integrated mental health services.
Unwavering support from an enhanced caregiver helped former foster youth Jennifer Williams overcome trauma to become a resilient and confident young woman with the tools she needs to shape a bright future for herself.
“They changed my life by showing me someone will care for you and someone will advocate for you no matter what,” Williams said recently from the Seneca Oakland office, which serves youth with higher needs.
Child welfare advocates at Seneca say the specialized care based on a one-on-one relationship between the enhanced caregiver and child in trauma is what sets the program apart from both congregate and traditional foster care settings.
“Our relationship with Riverside County has been very collaborative,” says Verlesha Smith, a placement program director with Seneca Family of Agencies, which is introducing the enhanced caregiver program to other California counties. “Whatever it takes to meet the needs of a client, that is what we are going to do.”
To learn more about becoming an Enhanced Caregiver in Riverside County call 1-800-665-KIDS (5437) or watch this video here.
Photo caption: Thanks to the enhanced caregiver model, former foster youth Jennifer Williams, overcame trauma to become a resilient and confident young woman with the tools needed to shape a bright future for herself. Learn more about her story here.
- Jennifer Williams: Riverside County