Abstract: An End to Foster Care Drift in British Columbia? Successful Implementation of Concurrent Planning (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

An End to Foster Care Drift in British Columbia? Successful Implementation of Concurrent Planning

Thursday, January 14, 2016: 3:45 PM
Meeting Room Level-Mount Vernon Square A (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
* noted as presenting author
Jeffrey Watts, MSW, MSW Student, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Jennifer Stewart, MSW, MSW Student, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Background: Promoting timely permanency for children in foster care is a recognized challenge in child welfare. In British Columbia in 2012, the average time to permanency for children in care in BC was eight years (MCFD Federation of Community Social Services of B.C., 2012). Concurrent Planning (CP), or the practice of simultaneously developing two plans for children in foster care—a plan for reunification and an alternative plan for permanency—has been implemented in some jurisdictions with the goal expediting permanency. Concurrent planning is not currently used in British Columbia, but it has been suggested as one way to remediate lackluster permanency outcomes. The purpose of this study was to conduct a jurisdictional scan of promising practices to determine the ideal implementation context for such a change within BC’s child welfare system. 

Methods: This study was descriptive and exploratory. The study’s main research question was, “What are the necessary training, assessment and policy changes required for successful implementation of Concurrent Planning in British Columbia?” Participants were recruited through facilitated contact with MCFD directors and course instructors. Data were gathered: 1) via expert interviews with opinion leaders in the field of concurrent planning, all from California (n=4); and 2) via a cross-sectional survey of adoptions social workers throughout BC (n=132) which included closed and open-ended questions. Interpretive description was the analytic framework used to analyze qualitative data (Thorne, et al., 1997). Interpretive description is a qualitative data analytic approach commonly used for “smaller scale qualitative investigation of…phenomenon of interest to the discipline for the purpose of capturing themes and patterns and…generating an interpretive description capable of informing clinical understanding” (5).

Results: Survey findings revealed that 98.46% of respondents did not feel that permanency for children in care is being achieved in a timely manner. More than three quarters (77.86%) of respondents were in favour of implementing a provincial concurrent planning program, while18.32% were unsure and 3.82% were not in favour. Respondents reported the major barriers to delayed permanency in BC included: 1) inadequate staffing/high caseloads; 2) inadequate training; 3) family court delays; 4) lack of quality foster/adoptive homes; and 5) legislative barriers related to Aboriginal/First Nations children in care.  Major recommendations for implementing concurrent planning to emerge from opinion leader interviews and survey respondents included: 1) dual licensing of foster and adoptive homes; 2) increased staffing to accommodate dual-worker model; 3) comprehensive provincial administrative database; 4) one-to-one coaching of concurrent planning social workers; and 5) legislative changes in regard to timelines.

Implications:  To implement concurrent planning in BC, study findings suggest changes to assessment, training, and policy. Notably, two assessments should be completed prior to placing a child in a potentially permanent home—a determination of a child’s eligibility for concurrent planning and a matching assessment to find suitable permanent caregivers. Training should be developed and delivered to caregivers, social workers, supervisors, and support staff; for successful implementation, one-on-one coaching should also be offered to staff. Finally, province-wide policy is necessary to create standardized practice and clear objectives.