An impressive program helps Sacramento’s foster children

Jeff vonKaenel

Since they received the federal IV-E Waiver in October 2014, Sacramento County Child Protective Services, or CPS, has transformed their agency, investing more resources into supportive care and early intervention. These changes and impressive results have received little publicity but are changing the lives of Sacramento’s children in foster care.

According to CPS, since October 2014, there are now 398 fewer children in foster care in Sacramento County. CPS has been able to increase permanency—adoption, family reunification, or legal guardianship—from 19.8 percent to 31.4 percent, and they have decreased re-entries into foster care from 18.4 percent to 12.9 percent.

Before the 2014 IV-E Waiver, Sacramento County CPS received federal funding for children in foster care, but there was no money for preventive programs to help parents and children stay together. And if the children were reunited with their parents, as many of them are, these often fragile families received no funds for supportive services.

After seeing the positive results of the pilot programs in Los Angeles and Alameda Counties, Sacramento County also applied for the IV-E Waiver. This program changes federal reimbursement to a block grant for CPS services based upon past expenditures. With the block grant, the county has the flexibility to allocate resources where they believe they will be most effective.

The risk with this program is that if the county’s caseload increased or their preventative services were ineffective, it could not request more federal money. They would have to come up with the additional funds.

Instead of expanding their own programs, Sacramento CPS partnered with local nonprofits such as the Child Abuse Prevention Centers, Lilliput Children’s Services, Sierra Forever Families, and the STARS/Bridges Program to provide supportive and preventive services.

A major recipient of the waiver funds has been the Child Abuse Prevention Center’s Birth & Beyond program, which provides families with crisis intervention and supportive services, such as parenting workshops and school readiness programs. According to President and CEO Sheila Boxley, “Only 2 percent of the families that have been served have ended up with a substantiated subsequent CPS case.” This program costs $700 per parent, while an open CPS case costs as much as $200,000. So in addition to keeping families intact, this program saves money.

For children who have been in foster care for more than two years and seem likely to stay in the system, the county contracted with Sierra Forever Families to manage an innovative outreach program that identifies relatives, a family friend or a neighbor with a connection with the child. Instead of the usual process of finding a foster or adoptive family, they request that these folks help out a child that they know. These are often the most successful adoptions.

Sierra Forever Families CEO Bob Herne, who praised Sacramento County’s waiver program, told me that they had considerable success in finding good permanent homes for the children who were previously stuck in the system.

The Waiver Program is government working well. It uses funds for programs that support and build up families instead of taking kids away from their parents with often tragic outcomes. And it provides additional resources for hard-to-adopt kids.

While the IV-E Waiver program has been working, it ends September 2019. It should be extended.

Our content is free, but not free to produce

If you value our local news, arts and entertainment coverage, become an SN&R supporter with a one-time or recurring donation. Help us keep our reporters at work, bringing you the stories that need to be told.


Stay Updated

For the latest local news, arts and entertainment, sign up for our newsletter.
We'll tell you the story behind the story.

About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.