Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) is tasked with an enormous responsibility—the well-being of children across the state. As part of this work, department staff can be called to assess whether a child is safe at home and, if determined to be necessary, find and accommodate a new living situation for them. To date, relocation has mainly been with foster families who have been licensed and trained through the state, but emerging research has motivated DCYF to make an important change to their model—they wanted to shift the framework of their agency away from foster families and toward a “kin-first” culture, where children were relocated to live with adults they knew and with whom they already had an existing and positive relationship. This shift would recognize several important benefits for children, such as maintaining their connection to their communities and culture and facilitating the maintenance of a relationship to their biological parents.
Bloom Works was contracted to make recommendations for DCYF on how to shift to a kin-first culture. Alongside New America and the team at Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) and funded by the Ballmer Group, we completed 4 sprints that would identify and minimize barriers to kinship caregiver placements. Each sprint was 6 weeks long, focused on one of four stakeholder groups: DCYF staff, Child Placing Agencies, community service providers, and kin caregivers and youth. Through this work, we were able to better understand the unique perspectives of the many players along this complex process.
Throughout, we conducted our work with a focus on two key principles:
Within each stakeholder group, Bloom thoughtfully selected a range of people representing all aspects of this service, including the organizations’ leadership, field operators, social workers, and area administrators, as well as being conscious of diversity and making sure different cultural backgrounds were well-represented and heard. This included the Bloom team traveling to Washington in order to interview some stakeholders in person and taking care to meet them where they felt most comfortable.
In order to work within these communities intentionally and thoughtfully, we built a team of lived experts in foster care and multilingual research that was also representatively diverse. This empowered us to gain trust and build understanding as we navigated the troubled and often contentious history of marginalized communities impacted by these services across Washington state.
Each sprint was also designed to be as collaborative and inclusive as possible, using an approach called “co-design.” Co-design is a process that invites stakeholders to participate in the design process as lived experts and Bloom worked to thoughtfully invite input in ways that were inclusive to each participant. That meant that in addition to small group and 1-1 interviews, we ran large group workshops at intervals across each sprint. These workshops were used to review current information, seek feedback, and brainstorm solutions alongside stakeholders. We also sent written surveys, so that people could provide feedback asynchronously.
The Bloom team identified significant barriers to kinship caregiver placements as experienced and identified by each stakeholder group. In partnership with DCYF, we drafted a report that recommended actionable, feasible changes to help the agency achieve better outcomes for children and youth in their care.
Our goal with this report was to be actionable, above all. That meant drafting recommendations that were easy to understand and could be utilized both across departments and at the level of the individual. We also employed some simple iconography to help readers distinguish between types of recommended actions.
We have received an overwhelmingly positive response from DCYF staff on the workshops and research conducted so far. Additionally, our work has initiated concrete changes. Starting July 1, 2023, formal kin caregivers will be paid the same amount as the monthly reimbursement paid to non-kin foster parents. Since there are approximately 7,000 children and youth in out-of-home care in the state at any time, this change could impact as many as over 3,700 caregivers. While it may take longer to see a change in the rate of placement with kin from the agency’s current level of 53%, we are confident that a kin-first approach is underway.
- Sequence of four discovery sprints
- In-person and remote discovery research with state staff and vulnerable populations
- Recommendations for implementation