L.A. County Weighs Expanding Rapid Kinship Placement Program

Despite an ever-tightening budget, Los Angeles County is considering an expansion of a kinship program that places foster children with relatives as soon as they are removed from their parents’ homes, a softer handoff that can reduce the trauma of family separation.

At a cost of $14.6 million, the program known as Upfront Family Finding is now being piloted at 10 of 20 Department of Children and Family Services offices, designed to provide foster children with an alternative to living in foster homes with people they don’t know, or in group care facilities. Under the program, part-time and formerly retired social workers seek out and engage with family members willing to receive the children within their first 90 days in foster care.

A wide body of research over the past two decades has found that children in foster care fare better emotionally, have greater stability when living with relatives and are better able to maintain connections with siblings. The issue has long been a focus for Michael Nash, executive director of the county’s Office of Child Protection and a former presiding judge of the juvenile court.

Like many child welfare agencies, Los Angeles County has specialized social workers to find relatives for children who are at risk of exiting care without family connections. But Nash has championed family-finding as a way to provide more stable placements for youth earlier on, in the hopes of avoiding often-rocky paths through the foster care system.

Nash’s office is proposing to expand the scope of the Upfront program to include the whole county at an additional cost of $8.3 million. Officials with the Department of Children and Family Services agree, saying the expansion would “pay dividends,” limiting the upheaval of multiple moves and correcting the disproportionate share of Black and Latino children placed in out-of-home care.

“While it might be dollars upfront, it’s trauma saved throughout,” said Kym Renner, a deputy director with the Department of Children and Family Services.

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