For over a decade, child welfare and mental health systems have realized that long term residential treatment was both ineffective and costly. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, published in 1999, supported these conclusions by stating that there was “weak evidence for their effectiveness”. A child and community’s safety and the ability to receive specialized treatment have been offered as justification for out of home residential care. However, research has shown there has been a lack of generalized improvement in either area once the youth has been discharged to their home community. It has been indicated that increased lengths of stay do not increase the chance of a child being more successful and does not decrease the child’s chance of returning to residential care.
In response to sky rocketing out of home placement numbers and increased financial strain on Oneida County New York, Kids Oneida was identified as the lead agency tasked with independently assessing all children in institutional care. This local non-profit agency whose vision is Keeping Families Together, was best suited to identify children in placement that would benefit from intensive community based services in their home communities as opposed to a more restrictive level of care. These services, which already existed in the county, would serve as a less intensive option for youth to continue their treatment once they have stabilized in out of home placement. This collaborative effort with the Oneida County Department of Social Services (OCDSS), Kids Oneida, placement facilities, families, school districts, and community partners was dubbed the Return Home Early Project.
At the time of the agreement in 2008, Oneida County had 140 youth at various Residential Treatment Centers and Group Homes across the state. Many of these children had been court ordered as Persons In Need of Supervision (PINS) or Juvenile Delinquents (JD) because of disruptive behaviors at home, school or community. Lengthy court ordered residential placements often resulted in many of these youth continuing to languish in residential care when they could have been better served in a lower level of care or even home, generating unnecessary cost to the county. Through strong advocacy, collaboration, and family empowerment, children that could be served at home, in lower levels of care (i.e., foster care), and closer to home were pursued by the Return Home Early Project.
The program manager of the project was tasked with providing a neutral assessment of every child by utilizing the Child Readiness Assessment created by KO. This assessment is an evaluation tool that is completed on every child to rate their readiness to return to their home environment. Placement and demographic information as well as outcomes and readiness are tracked through a proprietary software program called Client Tracker. Additionally, every child is provided a face to face interview with their treatment team to better understand the intricacies of each individual’s situation. It is the culmination of this intensive process that provided OCDSS, Family Court, the family, and placement agency a fresh perspective on treatment alternatives to residential placement.
After four plus years into its endeavor, the Return Home Early project has identified and returned 143 children from Oneida County that benefited from a discharge early from placement saving Oneida County over 14,000 days of care. The total number of children placed at the RTC and Group Home levels of care has decreased by over 50% since the inception of the Return Home Early Project indicating a philosophical shift in the appropriateness of placement treatment versus community and home based services. The Return Home Early Project has provided an approximate $4.4 million in cost avoidance as a result.
Later in 2008, Kids Oneida, partnered with Herkimer County DSS to develop the Kids Herkimer program with the same mission as a result of the success of the program in Oneida County. With similar success, the Kids Herkimer program has been responsible for returning 45 kids home early by nearly 8,152 days amounting to a net cost avoidance to tax payers of $1.5 million. The work in Herkimer County has in turn resulted in the financing of a robust system of care through the reinvestment of avoided placement costs. Six new innovative wraparound based programs have been added to a system that is now proactively addressing the complex yet individualized needs of children and families.
In 2011, KO was recognized nationally by the Building Bridges initiative as a model program supporting financial strategies to effectively prevent and return youth from placement. Also in 2011, Kids Herkimer was honored to have its innovative Return Home Early Project recognized by The White House Council for Community Solutions as a collaborative effort with the Herkimer County DSS. Kids Oneida has consistently demonstrated that positive outcomes can be achieved despite significant trauma, mental illness, and psychosocial stressors through its strength and team based approach.
For more information on Kids Oneida’s Return Home Early Project please click here.
Kids Oneida (KO) has been providing intensive community based services to children and families of the Mohawk Valley in Upstate NY as an alternative to residential care since 1997. Built on the principles of the Wraparound process, the agency provides intensive, collaborative, and highly coordinated community based services. The service delivery model has documented success in preventing youth with severe emotional disturbance (SED) from entering residential placements, shortening the length of stay youth are spending in out of home care, and decreasing the rate of recidivism for youth discharged from out of home placement. Kids Oneida prides itself on providing a cutting edge product that is not only unique to New York State but has gained national attention for the aforementioned successes. The agency served nearly 800 families in 2012, through eight programs across four counties including the first Children’s Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) demonstration project in New York State. KO has found its niche, even in today's turbulent economy, as it provides a viable alternative to institutional care at a fraction of the cost.
For more information about Kids Oneida please check out their website.