Santa Clara County has stopped processing children at a foster care intake center plagued by reports of abuse and holding kids for weeks—sometimes months—beyond the legal 24-hour limit. As of last week, county officials say children are no longer being held in the Receiving, Assessment and Intake Center (RAIC), a single-story facility across from Valley Medical Center on San Jose’s Enborg Lane.
On Tuesday, at its first meeting of the new year, the Board of Supervisors will hear an update about how the county Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) plans to process foster intakes going forward.
From January to October last year, the DFCS processed 670 children 848 times through RAIC. Of those kids, 639 were new to the foster care system and 209 were already in out-of-home placements and required a new place to live. During that timeframe, the county placed 251 of those kids in foster homes under its supervision, 176 in homes overseen by a private contractor, 35 in group homes and 57 in medical facilities. In that 10-month span, 104—or 15.5 percent—of those children required a higher level of care than they did when they first entered the safety-net system.
For most of December, the RAIC housed six youth who were all on a wait list for short-term residential treatment through the San Andreas Regional Center, a state-regulated non-profit agency that provides services for people with developmental disabilities. On Dec. 31, the county moved the last child from RAIC to alternative placement, which led to the official closure of the troubled intake facility.
The DFCS has since been using the Keiki Center, a social services office in North San Jose, as an alternate processing site for the time being. Ultimately, county officials say the goal is to find a private organization to manage intake and assessment for kids—as is reportedly standard practice in other Bay Area jurisdictions.
DFCS will work alongside probation and behavioral-health officials to find individualized home-like settings for the children who were at RAIC, according to a board memo penned by the Social Services Agency (SSA). As of Dec. 23, DFCS secured one home and apartments and is working on long-term plans for the most difficult-to-place youth. A lease for yet another location has been cleared by the county and awaits a landlord’s signature, per the memo.
The state’s moratorium on group homes prompted the county to establish the RAIC as a way to process kids within a day and place them in homes or home-like settings. But some of the toughest-to-place kids wound up staying well beyond the 24-hour limit, in violation of state laws that require specialized licensing for long-term childcare facilities.
Unfortunately, county officials say they lacked the resources to provide better care for kids with the greatest needs.
“Certain children have very acute and chronic challenges such that they need much more,” per the county memo signed off by SSA chief Robert Menicocci. “The RAIC was not designed to be a long-term acute care and treatment center for children with developmental disabilities, extreme trauma, or very significant behavioral health needs. DCFS social workers and staff are not trained to appropriately manage these complex individuals on their own.”
Indeed, this news organization reported two months ago about how an employee at RAIC who lacked the proper training to deal with a severely autistic 8-year-old boy violently restrained him in response to an outburst. The incident took place shortly after some teenagers had reportedly overdosed on methamphetamine at the facility and a sexually compulsive 13-year-old allegedly molested a 4-year-old girl.
Reports of the abuse prompted county officials to call for an emergency shutdown of the site. The county acknowledged that it needs to find a place where it could treat those children “more as patients than individuals simply in need of placement and permanency,” according to the memo going before the board Tuesday.
Over the coming months, county staff will work on getting a new intake service plan that comprises an intake center with on-call nursing, psychiatry and medical services and master’s degree-level clinicians. The new intake facility would screen for risk behaviors, emotional state and juvenile justice involvement, among other things. If needed, clinicians would develop a safety plan for a child during their stay and screen for medical needs, communication ability and suicide risk. That data would be used by DFCS to come up with appropriate placement decisions.
In some cases, the child would require an emergency foster care home—which are extremely rare because of how hard it is to find families willing to work with such challenging placements. To date, DFCS has identified three homes that agreed to serve emergency placements, which means they’ll take youth in at all hours. But DFCS officials say more emergency foster care homes are needed.
The county also hopes to ramp up stabilization support, which are programs that help trauma-afflicted children adjust to a certain caretaker, and intensive services foster care, which requires guardians who are specially trained to treat high-needs youth.
California’s foster care reforms emphasizing home-like placement over institutional settings was widely celebrated by safety-net providers, county officials acknowledge—but they’ve also been a challenge to implement.
“While there is broad agreement that family settings are best for all children, the population formally in group homes often require a flexible, integrated service delivery model with customized interventions that meet the unique needs of each child and youth,” Mennicocci states in his memo to supervisors. “These children and youth, while having experienced significant past trauma, have talents and strengths that must be rediscovered and nurtured.”
The Board of Supervisors meets at 9:30am Tuesday at the County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., in San Jose. To read the agenda in full, click here.