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San Diego Grand Jury: County Foster Care Programs Need Measurable Outcomes

A recent grand jury report from San Diego County found that San Diego’s Child Welfare Service (CWS) and Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) lack a way to measure the effectiveness of county child welfare programs.

Without a way to determine how the San Diego County’s foster care alumni fare later in life, the grand jury called the county’s inability to demonstrate the long-term effectiveness of their programs and policies “a cause for concern,” according to a report released last month.

San Diego County spends about $353 million annually for child welfare services, adoption service and CWS assistance payments. The San Diego County taxpayers contribute more than $199 million to CWS out of this budget, according to the grand jury report.

The HHSA is an integrated agency with a service network that serves more than 3.2 million residents. Part of HHSA, CWS oversees nearly 7,500 children in the county’s foster care system.

After hearing testimony from county workers and researching other foster care systems, the grand jury recommended that San Diego County sponsor a comprehensive, university-sponsored research effort to examine the effectiveness of current CWS programs in shaping successful foster care alumni.

San Diego’s grand jury is charged with helping evaluate the performance of public agencies in county and providing recommendations that can make the agencies more effective. Every year members of the grand jury are nominated by San Diego County Superior Court judges. Members stay on the grand jury for one year.

The focus of the grand jury’s investigation was to examine whether there is a relationship between the funds used by CWS and the success achieved by county foster care children as adults. The grand jury reviewed existing national studies on foster care alumni and met with staff from the San Diego County Probation Department, HHSA and CWS.

According to the report, San Diego County currently does not collect data on the outcomes of foster care alumni because of privacy concerns.

Because of the lack of outcomes for foster youth in San Diego County, the grand jury reviewed studies from other counties in California and other states, such as Oregon and Iowa. From that review, the body identified steps that can help child welfare agencies support the success of youth exiting care, such as early CWS intervention programs that address behavior problems during care and the need for programs that help foster youth transition to adulthood.

The grand jury believes a long-term study on foster care alumni success in San Diego County can help CWS deliver better-quality and cost-effective services that shape successful adults. A comprehensive study would also outline the overall financial costs of foster care alumni who transition to general welfare programs after becoming adults.

The county is currently reviewing the grand jury’s comments and recommendations and has 90 days to submit a required response.

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