Permanency, Partnership and Perseverance: Lessons from the California Residential Based Services Reform Project

Nearly 12 percent of California’s foster care youth were in group care in 2006, and the state spent almost 50 percent of available foster care funding to care for just these youth. Additional problems in the system included lack of clarity about which children should be placed in group care, what services were provided and if these homes helped children achieve legal permanency. Referring agencies also expressed concern about high costs, protracted lengths of stay, insufficient openings and the absence of discharge planning. Group care providers in turn said payment rates did not cover the full cost of care. Providers said this placed financial pressure on them to maintain full occupancy in order to stay in business.

To address these significant problems, the state legislature in 2007 authorized the California Residential Based Services Reform Project. The project allowed the California Department of Social Services to establish a limited number of partnerships between county agencies and private providers to test programs and funding models that could transform the existing system of long-term residential treatment and group-home care into residentially based services (RBS) to improve outcomes.

The project produced these findings:

  • Youth functioning improved in all areas, except for education and substance use.
  • In most cases, RBS decreased youth length of stay.
  • About one-half of all youth served by RBS left a residential treatment or group home placement for a lower level of care, and youth had an increased likelihood of achieving legal permanency.
  • Youth and parents rated their engagement with services as positive throughout their RBS participation.

The RBS Reform Project did demonstrate that significant change is possible within human services departments and with youth in care when dedicated staff have a clear mission and consistent, strong leadership. It also established that change doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it always proceed smoothly.


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