Pathways to Permanency: Building Collaboration and Removing Barriers in the Foster Care System

The Pathways to Permanency project is an initiative that strives to promote collaboration, remove barriers, and improve outcomes for children, families, and professionals within the foster care system. We define permanency as the process of moving a child from temporary foster care placement to a stable, permanent home. By promoting genuine dialogue, embracing inclusivity, and leveraging data-driven approaches, this program aims to address the challenges faced by individuals and families seeking permanency. Vaya Health spoke to Micah Ennis, Director of the Rowan County Department of Social Services, about the project.

Q. In your own words, what is the Pathways to Permanency project?  

A: This project isabout a collaborative effort to identify strategies that build resiliency and support children, families, and those who work in the varying aspects of the child welfare system. The collaboration that is happening through the project helps remove barriers to stability in the system. Our systems are created for good purposes, but sometimes the effects of our individual and collective systems create challenges for children and families to achieve their goals, permanency being chief among them.

Q: As DSS Director and social services worker, what opportunities will Pathways to Permanency bring to our state?

A: Data, inclusion, genuine dialogue, and collaboration. I believe these are all critical to better outcomes for those we serve and allow for greater understanding and more action for those who work in the foster care system.

Q: What support does the Department of Social Service provide to those in the foster care system? 

A: We work with youth and families (birth and foster parents) to identify the trauma-related needs of the youth via screening and assessment tools, then ensure there are quality therapeutic interventions in place to address those needs.

We also identify safety-related needs and address the needs that can’t be met without legal intervention through the foster care system. Our goal is to intervene as early as possible in the relationship with the youth we are serving, preferably before entry into foster care.

Another core component of our work is case management services that guide families through developing meaningful case plans to ensure ongoing safety for all involved and achieve permanent placement. Ultimately, we seek out and oversee placement in the most family-like settings possible, whether with unlicensed kin, licensed foster families, therapeutic family settings, or group settings.

We train and license foster families, including kinship providers. We train adoptive, foster, and kinship caregivers using the Resource Parent Curriculum. We equip staff with appropriate training and encourage them to participate in a wide variety of available community collaboration opportunities as well, such as Project Re-entry, poverty simulations, court system reform efforts, etc. Keeping the health and wellness of staff in mind, especially those who work through difficult situations, we refer them to our Employee Assistance Program. We communicate with one another and our external partners to more effectively serve those involved in the system. 

Q: What are the successes that could result from this program?

A: Greater understanding of what each element of the foster care system does and does not do, a higher level of dialogue and collaboration, and better outcomes for children and families consistently.

Q: Keeping children, their families, and their health needs as a top priority is crucial. Why is it important to do so? 

A: Safety, physical health, and a stable living environment are important components of a person’s well-being. When any of us are not well, we can lack the ability to focus on the growth and development we need or to do so for those around us. Addressing health and wellbeing needs is a critical part of change management for families and is what is needed to help people on their journey of wellness.

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