History of the National Association of State Foster Care Managers

In May of 1989, foster care specialists from nineteen states came together for a two day symposium in Washington, D.C. which was federally funded and organized by the Child Welfare Institute. Foster care specialists participated in work groups around a range of subjects, including: practice, management, funding, and the importance of upgrading staff and foster parent training and role responsibilities; they also discussed liability and public image education concerns. Key issues that emerged from their discussions were their need for greater access to information and the importance of communication between the states. The participants unanimously agreed that regular meetings were essential to their effective operation. This conclusion led to the development of the National Association of State Foster Care Managers (NASFCM), which held its first Annual Association Meeting in Washington, D.C. in 1990. Mary Nelson, Ramona Foley, Jean Fiorito, Donna Petris, and Jean Doll played crucial roles in establishing the NASFCM; all of these pioneer organizers also served as President of the NASFCM in its early years.

The NASFCM was established to enable state foster care managers to pool their expertise for the progressive improvement of the quality of care to children and families served by foster care and to share information about issues that impact the safety, permanency, and well-being of children in out of home care and their families. The Association’s mission also included informing and guiding policy-makers regarding laws and policies which affect the quality of life of children and families served by the foster care system. Through the NASFCM, foster care managers learn from each other’s experiences and share information and materials on practice, program, and policy issues in order to implement foster care and permanency programs most effectively, saving time and money and improving services nationwide.

The NASFCM Board of Directors, which is elected at the annual meetings, provides leadership and guidance to the NASFCM and represents the Association on national task forces and in work groups addressing issues pertaining to foster care. The NASFCM Board of Directors elicits input from members and then develops the agenda for the meeting each year. Each annual meeting has its own theme; many meetings have focused on legislation that impacts child welfare, and have included presentations from representatives from the Children’s Bureau. Meetings also involve “state sharing” opportunities for foster care managers to exchange information regarding issues and trends. Following the annual meetings, the proceedings are disseminated to all states. The annual meetings are open to all individuals holding foster care management and/or administrative positions focused on services for families with children in out-of-home care in the public child welfare sector; one designee per state may vote at the meetings.

One of the challenges the Association has faced is that not all state foster care managers have had an opportunity to attend the annual meetings regularly. This is partly because many states do not have a specialist exclusively dedicated to foster care management, and job descriptions are not consistent throughout the country. Another factor is that many specialists needed to travel a great distance to participate in the meetings, which were traditionally held in Washington, D.C. As there is no federal funding for foster care specialists to attend the annual meeting, states need to provide financial support to allow them to attend the conference, and this is not always possible. (Though there is no cost to join the Association, fees are charged for attendance at the annual meeting, and states must pay their representatives’ travel and expenses.)

In 2006, for the first time, the annual meeting took place outside of Washington, D.C. The meeting was held in Texas, in part because the federal government was hosting a follow-up conference in San Antonio regarding the five states most impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005; coordinating the two events allowed Association members to attend both in one trip. In order to enable states across the country to participate in annual meetings, in 2006, the NASFCM voted to begin moving the meetings around the country. However, locating the meetings in Washington, D.C. did have some advantages, as the Association acts as a vehicle of communication with the federal government and national organizations addressing issues of concern to foster care managers. Locating the annual meeting in Washington, D.C. gave the Association direct access to federal partners and national and professional organizations and advocacy groups, allowing national and federal organizations to easily provide presentations to the Association.

Throughout its history, the National Resource Center (NRC) for Foster Care has provided secretariat support to the NASFCM at the request of the Children’s Bureau, a relationship that has developed and grown over time. From 1989-1994, the NASFCM was supported by the NRC for Foster Care, hosted by Eastern Michigan University under Director Patricia Ryan, Ph.D. From 1994 to 1999, the NASFCM was supported by the NRC for Foster Care at the Hunter College School of Social Work in New York City as a service of the Children’s Bureau, first directed by Professor Gary Anderson and later by Sarah Greenblatt. The NRC’s name was changed in 1998 to the National Resource Center for Foster Care and Permanency Planning which was again directed by Sarah Greenblatt, and since 2001 has been directed by Professor Gerald P. Mallon. In 2004, when the Children’s Bureau announced the grant for the NRC, the name was changed to the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections (NRCPFC) to emphasize the importance of these practice modalities to a foster care system focused on achieving positive outcomes for families and children. The NRCPFC, which is a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau, provides technical assistance to States and Tribes on issues related to foster care, permanency planning, and family-centered practice and provides support to the Association as part of that mission. Stephanie Boyd Serafin, the NRC’s Associate Director, has been working directly on behalf of the NRCPFC to support the activities of the NASFCM since 2000.

The NASFCM and NRCPFC have worked together to significantly expand the Association’s networking activities, providing additional ways in which foster care managers can share information. Since 1998, the NASFCM and NRCPFC have arranged regular informational conference calls to help foster care managers collectively respond to immediate issues, such as new legislation, that impact their work. In 2000, the NASFCM developed an electronic list serve so that foster care managers can easily communicate between meetings, share practices that benefited their states, and turn to each other for advice and support when dealing with challenges. Additionally, with support from the NRCPFC and the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Adoption, the NASFCM coordinates meetings to bring foster care managers and adoption care managers together to address common issues.