"I don't want Michelle to leave," 9-year-old Quentin complains when asked how he feels about his Department of Human Services caseworker no longer being a part of his life. But he smiles at the suggestion of a pizza party to mark her departure.
No one likes to see someone they care about leave. But for Quentin - who's suffered neglect, witnessed violence and drug abuse, felt abandoned by parents and been shuffled through multiple foster homes - the loss of a protective adult could be horribly traumatic.
To ease Quentin's transition, caseworker Michelle Hilbert suggests that she and the boy write letters to each other now that DHS has closed his case.
Six months ago, he likely would have erupted in an hours-long tantrum, behavior consistent with his diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder. But in his more stable life today, Quentin is asked about his feelings and quickly reassured. Soon he's back playing video games and only half-heartedly listening to the six adults focused on him.
What was the impetus for starting wraparound demonstration projects?
Interest in the demonstration was high after several Oregon communities used federal grants to build systems that wrapped services around individual families' needs and made families partners in the process. Under legislation passed in 2009, the Department of Human Services - along with the Department of Education, Youth Authority and Oregon Commission on Children and Families - was directed to initiate and sustain, as practicable, the wraparound approach in all counties by 2015. No new funds were directed to implement the legislation. The demonstration project is an early step in meeting that directive.
Quentin is one of about 60 foster children who will receive services this year through the Washington County Wraparound Demonstration Project, one of three demonstration projects set in motion by the Statewide Children's Wraparound Initiative passed by the Legislature in 2009. The local project is coordinated by the Washington County Mental Health Department and is in sync with the state's overall efforts - through a partnership of DHS, the Oregon Commission on Children and Families, Oregon Judicial Department and Casey Family Programs - to safely and equitably reduce the number of children in foster care.
In Quentin's case, all involved agree, the project has helped him and his family become more stable and resulted in the closure of his DHS case. He now lives with his mother, Jessica Grant, her partner and two half siblings in a tidy home in Aloha.
"I'm so proud of your participation in this program," Judge Jim Fun tells Grant in February when he ends DHS involvement in the case. "The goal is to return decision-making to the family because no one knows the needs like the family," he says in recognizing the philosophy of the wraparound project to empower and support families. DHS is no longer needed, he says, because the wraparound team will continue to be a presence in their lives.
Grant could not agree more. "They've helped me be strong so I can be strong for him," says the 32-year-old mother, who has been drug free for more than a year. "He's so much happier," she says of Quentin after the hearing.
Five months earlier, Quentin had been out of foster care and living with his mother for only one month when she realized she didn't have the skills to parent her older son. She agreed to be part of the local project, which in its demonstration phase focuses on children who are in the custody of child welfare, have been in at least four foster homes and may have behavioral and emotional issues, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or schizophrenia.
How many demonstration projects are there, where are they located and who is served?
There are three demonstration sites: Mid-Valley WRAP, covering Linn, Marion, Polk, Tillamook and Yamhill counties; Rogue Valley Wraparound Collaborative, covering Jackson and Josephine counties; and Washington County Wraparound Demonstration Project, covering Washington County. The projects serve those who are engaged in two or more child-serving systems, such as education, child welfare, juvenile justice or mental health.
Jill Archer, Child and Family Senior Program coordinator for the Washington County Mental Health Department, oversees the demonstration project. She says the project uses practices that have been clinically proven to help distressed children. Through a care coordinator, the project brings together all of the systems working with the child and family, as well as their extended family, friends and support community. The approach, she says, helps maximize resources and address all of the complex and inter-related issues facing the children, including the child's psychological and emotional needs, behavioral issues and social skills, family stresses and parenting skills as well as medical treatment and even legal issues. Each of the county's four care coordinators, all with master's degrees in social work and years of experience, oversees about 15 cases.
Wraparound and care coordinator Brian Whitmer entered Quentin's life in September - just as Grant says she was ready to give up on her son. The mother was living with her two sons at Oxford House, a non-profit that offers communal housing to people in recovery.
"He is so much happier," Jessica Grant says of her son, Quentin. She gives the Washington County Wraparound Demonstration Project much of the credit for her family's new stability.
As Grant tells it, Quentin responded to Whitmer's arrival as he would have to any stranger: He started screaming and hitting other children in the home, threw over the coffee table and ran out of the house and down the street.
The situation is much different five months later. At a monthly team meeting in the family's new home, Whitmer asks Quentin what's on his mind. "I've been good," the boy proudly announces from his perch on the couch. Whitmer is able to check off a number of goals that the family has met: Quentin is performing at grade level in school, the family has set up a routine for bedtime that's relieved his anxiety, the boy is involved in two after school activities each week to help develop his self-confidence and social skills and the family has engaged in collaborative problem-solving.
Whitmer describes the approach as looking beyond the crisis to find out what the child needs. "If kids knew how to communicate what they need, they would," he says.
One crisis, for example, is that Quentin's anxiety reaches a peak at night and he acts out. But what does he need? He needs to feel safe, says Whitmer. To make him feel more secure, the team helped the family develop a structured routine of dinner, homework, TV and bedtime at 9 p.m. sharp. The boy wears a watch so he knows when bedtime is approaching and can modulate his anxiety. His mom gives him backrubs to calm him. As a result, there are fewer crises.
Still, there are challenges. Grant is starting job-training, for example, which means Quentin will need to spend time in daycare and that's likely to trigger his anxiety. Quentin says he has no friends at school. Grant says it's still difficult to take him into the community because he over-reacts to stimulus and acts out.
How will the results be assessed?
How each child and family functions will be assessed when they enter the project, considering the youth's ability to be safely at home, be successful in school and stay out of trouble. A new assessment will be done each quarter to determine progress and needed supports.
The overall demonstration project will be assessed annually by those involved in serving the children and families. This will determine where improvements need to be made in the system of services to provide better outcomes for families and children.
---- Source: Benjamin Hazelton, assistant administrator of the Office of Safety and Permanency for Children and co-leader of the Statewide Children's Wraparound Initiative
The group talks through options and comes up with a list of things for the family to do, including finding out if Grant can start job-training later in the day. Family partner Anna Guillen, caseworker Michelle Hilbert and mentor Seth Mankoski detail what's happened over the last month and what they will do in the coming month.
The group ticks through the meeting agenda, and Whitmer asks about the number one goal for February: Ask the court to dismiss DHS from the case. Team members agree that they support the move, and Whitmer discusses the statement he will make in court on behalf of the team.
Caseworker Hilbert nods in agreement, saying later that the wraparound team is able to focus on the larger picture and provide long-term services for the child and his family. She applauds the approach of making children part of the monthly meeting, helping them learn to express their concerns and being part of the solution.
If it weren't for the wraparound project, says Hilbert, she would not be ready to close Quentin's case. "I feel confident that if Jessica (Grant) says she needs help, there will be services. All families have problems, but wraparound gives them an opportunity to work on those problems.
In court, Hilbert makes the recommendation that DHS be dismissed from the case. The children's lawyer, Whitmer and Grant make statements of support. The judge agrees: "Mom, congratulations. Everyone is so very proud of you, so very proud."