• March 2014
  • Vol. 15, No. 3

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Site Visit: Oklahoma's Bridge to the Future

In 2007, a survey of Oklahoma Department of Human Services' (OKDHS') child welfare staff indicated significant concerns regarding the agency's ability to effectively meet the needs of children in out-of-home care. The most critical of these concerns was recruiting and retaining a sufficient number of qualified foster and adoptive parents. To resolve these issues, OKDHS, in collaboration with the University of Oklahoma's Center for Public Management (OUCPM), initiated the Bridge to the Future project. The project was funded as one the Children's Bureau's eight 5-year grants in its Diligent Recruitment of Families for Children in the Foster Care System grant cluster.

The Bridge was defined as a component of the OKDHS practice model that seeks to view "practice through the eyes of the child and seeks to ensure that children in care maintain connections to their kin, culture, and community while in out of home care." There was a need for current and future Bridge Resource Families (BRFs) to be trained in the Bridge philosophy and practice to ensure a focus on permanency from the first day a child enters the child welfare system. With this in mind, improving customer service and ultimately the satisfaction of BRFs with the recruitment, approval, and ongoing support process was a primary goal of the project. Survey data indicated several issues impacting BRF satisfaction, including the following: 

  • Many BRFs found the approval process overwhelming.
  • Parent inquiries that came in through the Internet or the 1-800 number rarely resulted in application submission and included high withdrawal rates. 
  • Families needed access to information and training in multiple formats.
  • BRFs had a low acceptance of children with medical issues, disabilities, or significantly traumatic backgrounds, including sexual or physical abuse and drug or alcohol exposure.
  • Once BRFs understood what Bridge meant for the child and for them, they were willing to participate. 

To address these issues, the Bridge to the Future project focused on the following activities:

  • Bridge Resource Support Center (BRSC). The center employs two full-time staff who have child welfare experience and are prepared to respond to Internet and phone inquiries from prospective and current BRFs from across the State. Since implementation, the BRSC has responded to more than 9,500 contacts from families, acting as an additional support to families during the approval process by conducting follow-up calls at 10 days, 30 days, and as requested. In response to these calls, over 3,000 inquiry packets have been sent to families desiring to know more about the Bridge program.
  • Bridge Resource Family Website (BRFW). The website provides general information about what BRFs do, FAQs about the Bridge Family philosophy, supportive resources, forms, and news and events from around the State. Additionally, the website includes more than 20 training videos. As of December 2012, more than 2,055 trainings were registered as completed. Importantly, the website also includes the telephone number for the BRSC. 
  • Training for OKDHS Staff. Data and conversations with BRFs and staff indicated there was a significant problem with staff perception of the level of support needed for prospective and current BRFs. A 1-hour online training for all staff, Valuing Our Resource Families, was designed and delivered. The training plan includes pre- and posttest survey instruments, future performance appraisal surveys at 3, 6, 12, and 18 months for supervisors, interviews with supervisors assessing behavioral change, and focus groups with staff. The impact of training is currently being evaluated utilizing the Kirkpatrick Model of Evaluation. 

In 2009 and 2012, customer service surveys were administered to prospective BRFs. In 2009, there was only an 8-percent response rate, but in 2012, the response rate increased to18 percent. Results indicated that there was an overall 23-percent improved customer satisfaction rate among prospective BRFs. Other responses from the surveys indicated that negative perceptions of OKDHS decreased by 7 percent, and there was a 9-percent decrease in the reported lack of knowledge of the application process or system.

Since 2011, an annual customer service satisfaction survey of current BRFs has been administered and asks questions related to how respondents feel about the support they are receiving from a variety of sources including the BRSC, the BRFW, and their caseworker. In 2011, the response rate was low, approximately 20 percent. By 2013, the response rate had increased to over 35 percent. In May 2013, the Bridge to the Future project received the Oklahoma Governor's Commendation of Excellence for enhancing foster and adoptive family recruitment and retention through innovative, effective, and efficient programming.
 
For more information about this project, contact Karen Poteet, Project Manager, Karen.Poteet@okdhs.org. The full site visit report is available on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website:
 
https://www.childwelfare.gov/management/funding/funding_sources/families.cfm
 
The Bridge to the Future project is funded by the Children's Bureau (Award 90CO1033). This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from Children's Bureau site visits.

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