On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home received a Child Placing License (#16305) from Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services’ Bureau of Licensing. Immediately, our new Methodist Foster Care staff cranked up all the activities required to build a Therapeutic Foster Care program. This Q&A is offered to explain what we are doing and why it is important that this work begin.

Q. What is Therapeutic Foster Care?

Think of Therapeutic Foster Care as regular foster care but with an additional something important: treatment.

Therapeutic Foster Care is a family-based service which allows a child to live in a home with trained TFC parents while receiving intensive treatment from community-based providers of mental health services for their emotional and behavioral needs. TFC gives a child a supportive family setting until the natural family can be reunited or a permanent placement can be arranged for the child.

Q. When will Methodist Foster Care begin?

Update: On Tuesday, December 1, 2015, Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home received a Child Placing License (#16305) from Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services’ Bureau of Licensing. Immediately, our new Methodist Foster Care staff began recruiting, training and certifying therapeutic foster families. Our goal is to enter January 2016 with TFC homes for 50 children.

We are working to get all our ducks in a row as soon as possible and no later than January 1, 2016. To create Methodist Foster Care’s TFC program, we have several tasks yet to complete. When time is available, these tasks are completed in a sequential order, one after the other. We are achieving them all at once and trusting they will fall into place in the proper order and in time to be fully operational on January 1, 2016. These immediate tasks include acquiring Child Placing Agency licenses, writing a policy and procedure manual, writing a program proposal in response to DCFS’ solicitation, hiring experienced staff, acquiring appropriate office space, certifying families under our own Child Placing Agency licenses, and placing children. That’s a lot to do by January 1, but it must happen.

Q. Methodist has provided Therapeutic Foster Care before, correct?

Yes, we have. In fact, we are using the program manuals, policy manuals, forms, and knowledge gained from our earlier TFC programs as the foundation for this new work.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, Methodist Home for Children of New Orleans supported a good-sized network of therapeutic foster families. Regulations have changed a good bit since that earlier work so our final program materials and job descriptions will be different. However, having that foundation is really speeding up our preparation work! I love that we continue to benefit from incorporating the richness and legacy of the New Orleans Home into our current and future operations.

Also, during the late 1980’s and through most of the 1990’s, Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home in Ruston provided an intensive level of TFC services to the Office of Juvenile Justice. Again, those materials are helpful.

Q. Why is Methodist starting a TFC program now?

The short answer: because NOW is the time.

Of course, there is a longer answer. We are creating a Therapeutic Foster Care program now for several important reasons.

First, creating Methodist Foster Care has been on our organization’s strategic plan and on our “To Do” list. For example, years ago we registered the domain, www.MethodistFosterCare.org, because we like to be prepared.

Second, a large, out-of-state provider of TFC services in Louisiana has recently announced it is ending those services in Louisiana. Anytime an organization that cares for Louisiana’s children ceases operations, gaps occur in services for children. In this instance, given our own mission, resources and experience, we believe we can step up to help meet the looming need by providing TFC services.

Third, we know Louisiana’s children will require more Therapeutic Foster Families in the future – and this, sooner rather than later as we lose group homes.

Fourth, Louisiana’s transition from child welfare to behavioral health has created a very unpredictable environment. No child care organization knows from year to year what the state will do regarding funding and regulations. What we do know is that DHH recently attempted to move Therapeutic Foster Care services under the Medicaid umbrella but could not. We believe it will happen eventually.

This inability to make certain plans is a consequence of the unpredictable environment which makes Louisiana a risky, complicated place for child welfare providers. Louisiana has lost some effective organizations because they spent their reserves struggling to keep their heads above water following rate reductions. Others have given up in frustration or operating risks.

Anytime Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family services can, we want to fill gaps in Louisiana’s child welfare system which are being created by uncertainty. As these gaps in children’s services continue to appear in Louisiana, when state regulations allow us to care for children and if we believe we can effectively provide services that align with our mission, we will act to meet the needs of children, families and communities.

Fifth, and this should shock all of us, for 26 years Louisiana has averaged 49th among the 50 states for child well-being. This must change and you can read more about call for leadership related to Louisiana’s poor child well-being. In every service area Methodist enters, we work to improve standards of care and improve child well-being. One way we believe we can continue our work to improve child well-being is by developing a network of TFC families which keep children in their own communities, near their families, being cared for in families, and out of residential treatment programs.

Q. You say, “out of residential treatment programs”?

Yes. That probably sounds like an odd thing to hear knowing our organization operates three children’s homes. But here’s what you need to know: facility-based residential care must always be an option of last resort for children.

It does not matter how exceptional a residential treatment center is, in it, even the best care possible is being provided in an unnatural setting for children. We deliver the most intensive, comprehensive, holistic residential care in Louisiana in Ruston, Sulphur and Mandeville but you should think of it like you do a necessary trip to the ER or surgery center. No one wants that, but when it’s needed, you want it to be the very best. Our children’s homes are for children who required intensive, focused treatment and they are not places where children should be reared.

This year, by entering active partnerships with local churches and other nonprofit organizations, we have increased the number of our Family Plus sites from 5 to 25 sites in Louisiana (and 30 by year’s end). That expansion and our creation of Methodist Foster Care are evidence of our commitment to provide prevention, early intervention and family-centered care. We want to care well for children in family settings so we can prevent the need for intensive residential care. Methodist Foster Care will be an incredibly important program in our state.

Q. Will Methodist Foster Care compete against other foster care organizations?

No. There has never been reason for any competition among Louisiana’s child care organizations. The needs of Louisiana’s children and families are too numerous and too great for any provider to distract itself with competition. In fact, we partner together. The Louisiana Association of Child and Family Agencies is a healthy, mutually supportive organization of agencies seeking to make good things happen for children and families.

As a standard of practice, our staff members actively partner with others and we cooperate eagerly with agencies who are doing good things for children and families. In fact, we are excited about any organization with the courage, stamina and tenacity to do good work in Louisiana’s chaotic child welfare/behavioral health environment! To carry on and remain calm has required tremendous fortitude and commitment.

Here’s another reason competition makes little sense in our state: Louisiana seems stuck near the bottom of so many lists related to the well-being of our children. Our children need all the help they can get! Consequently, as with every service we offer, we will do our best to provide exceptional therapeutic foster care services and we will work to be supportive of others because we wish to enhance services for children across our state.

Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services is a non-profit, faith-related organization. We measure our success in the quality of life we engender for children, families and communities. Simply stated, our bottom line is measured in lives. People understand that and they actively support our work across Louisiana. Last year we touched the lives of 20,000 people and 100% of that work was supported, in whole or in part, by charitable donations from people who believe in caring for the least of these, Louisiana’s children.

Q. What’s next?

Really good stuff for children, families and communities!