Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center

Specialized Foster Care

Specialized Foster Care

In recent years, the use of long-term incarceration in locked facilities for juvenile offenders has been criticized for being ineffective in preventing recidivism and rehabilitation, costly and even harmful to a minor’s well-being and development. One alternative to incarceration for minors who have been adjudicated delinquent and who do not have safe or appropriate family homes is specialized foster care. Specialized foster care is a model that recruits and trains families to offer placement and treatment to minors with histories of severe or chronic delinquency. These foster parents receive special training and have access to dedicated resources for special needs cases. The foster parents are then expected to provide individualized mentoring to foster children in their custody as well as consistent and appropriate discipline for rule violations committed by these minors.

What is Specialized Foster Care?

Until recently, juvenile offenders who have special medical needs or behavioral problems were housed in group homes. These juveniles were often denied proper individualized treatment and were more likely to reoffend. Specialized foster care has been developed to specifically address the needs of these minors. Foster parents involved in providing specialized foster care will receive additional training and screening and will receive supplemental payments. The use of specialized foster care as an alternative to incarceration has been shown to greatly reduce recidivism rates in juvenile offenders.

Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care

One example of specialized foster care is multidimensional treatment foster care (“MTFC”). MTFC is a treatment alternative designed for minors who have exhibited chronic antisocial behavior, emotional disturbance, and delinquency. Intervention in MTFC has three main components. In the MTFC Parents component, a juvenile offender is placed in a family setting with specially trained foster parents for six to nine months. In the Family component, the minor’s birth parents receive family therapy and training in parental skills. Finally, the Treatment Team component involves a team that provides intensive support to the specialized foster parents.

Implementation of Specialized Foster Care

In many cases, specialized foster care has been implemented by state and local government as the result of legal challenges. In 2002, a class action lawsuit in California was filed alleging that the minors in the Los Angeles County foster system were not receiving appropriate mental health services. Los Angeles County entered into a settlement agreement under which the County made a number of systemic changes to ensure that minors promptly receive necessary individualized mental health services, that they receive care and services required to prevent removal from their family or to facilitate reunification with their family, that they are afforded stability in placement and that they receive care and services consistent with the standards and requirements of the law. The Specialized Foster Care Co-Located Program was created to ensure that the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services met the stated criteria set forth in the settlement agreement.

The Specialized Foster Care Program has staff in all 18 DCFS offices who provide mental health services to minors under the supervision of juvenile court system. These services include providing mental health assessments, evidence-based treatment plans, crisis intervention, consultation, referral to mental health care providers and participation in multidisciplinary team meetings.

Specialized Foster Care Training

Foster parents must receive special training to qualify as specialized foster care providers. Foster families must be carefully screened and selected to ensure that they are appropriate providers of specialized care. These families will typically receive additional compensation and are expected to follow curriculum-based programming to ensure the minors in their care receive the proper support and treatment. In California, these homes can be certified to serve up to six children, however, the majority of providers prefer to place three or fewer children in specialized foster care. Features that distinguish specialized foster care from foster family homes are the additional training and support provided in specialized care, the involvement of foster parents in case planning, the involvement of the birth parents and the individualized treatment program for the minors.