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Casey Grants To Target Foster Care, Mental-Health Services

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The Annie E. Casey Foundation announced last month that it will award more than $28 million to two initiatives designed to help states improve their foster-care systems and mental-health services for low-income children.

A cornerstone of both reform efforts is the involvement of families and communities as key partners in the provision of services.

Under the foundation's $17.8-million mental-health initiative, $150,000 one-year planning grants will be awarded to seven states. Five urban neighborhoods will then be selected to receive $3-million four-year demonstration grants.

Increasing violence, high unemployment, poverty, and a lack of health-care services are "all exacerbating emotional problems in children,'' said Betty King, an associate director at the Casey Foundation.

A 1991 report by the National Commission on Children estimated that 12 percent to 15 percent of American children suffer mental disorders.

But, despite the increasing need for psychological and counseling services, Ms. King said, client families often perceive state mental-health-care systems as "hostile.''

The initiative will seek to make the participating systems more "user friendly'' by promoting cooperation among education, child-welfare, juvenile-justice, and health-care agencies.

In each of the five neighborhoods that receives a demonstration grant, a local coordinating organization will target 6,000 children likely to "develop a serious emotional disturbance'' leading to suicide or suicide attempts, school failure, substance abuse, or violent behavior.

The initiative's long-term goals include:

  • Expanding the population receiving mental-health services to include at-risk children who have not yet been identified as having mental-health problems.
  • Providing services that are culturally sensitive to children and their families.
  • Providing services in nontraditional settings--such as schools, community centers, churches, and social-service agencies--that are "less stigmatizing.''

Ten states have been invited to apply for planning grants: Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

The states were selected for their high concentrations of urban, minority populations in need of mental-health services and their track record of providing services, Ms. King said.

Mental-health professionals tend to know what procedures and polices need to be improved, Ms. King noted. The problem, she said, is that many states "don't have the will or the resources.''

"What we're hoping to do is to challenge the state to implement what they already know to be good healthy practices,'' she added.

Foster-Care Initiative

Under the second initiative, a $10.4-million foster-care program, five states will receive $75,000 nine-month planning grants. Up to four states will then receive $3-million three-year implementation grants.

"I think we acknowledge that this is a system that is in desperate need of attention,'' said Kathleen Feeley, an associate director at the Casey Foundation.

Ms. Feeley said the program will aim to help state foster-care systems become more oriented toward keeping families together, or, when that goal is not feasible, placing children in family situations rather than in institutions or group homes.

The program's objectives include:

  • Placing children in homes located in their own communities as often as possible.
  • Directing foster parents to work more closely with a child's biological parents to address the problems that caused the child's removal from his or her parents' home.
  • Improving the recruitment of foster parents, the supply of which has declined in recent years.
  • Developing "family plans'' aimed at reuniting the family, rather than separate plans for the child and for the parent or parents.

A foundation statement on the initiative notes that, in the past, most foster placements have been based primarily on "expediency and immediate availability.''

"What we're saying is that there should be a conscious effort to keep kids in their own neighborhood and to use foster parents to ultimately help with reunification,'' Ms. Feeley said.

Eleven states have been invited to apply for planning grants for the foster-care initiative: Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, and South Carolina.

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