START pairs child protective services (CPS) workers trained in family engagement with family mentors (peer support employees in long-term recovery) using a system-of-care and team decision-making approach with families, treatment providers and the courts.
Essential elements of the model include quick entry to START services to safely maintain child placement in the home when possible and rapid access to intensive addiction/mental health assessment and treatment.
Each START CPS worker-mentor team has a capped caseload, allowing the team to work intensively with families, engage them in individualized wrap-around services and identify natural supports with goals of child safety, permanency, and parental sobriety and capacity.
The goals of START are:
Ensure child safety
Reduce entry into out-of-home care, keeping children in the home with the parent when safe and possible
Achieve child permanency in Adoptions and Safe Families Act (ASFA) timeframes, preferably with one or both parents or, if not possible, with a relative
Achieve parental sobriety in time to meet ASFA permanency timeframes
Improve parental capacity to care for children and to engage in essential life tasks
Reduce repeat maltreatment and reentry to out-of-home care
Expand behavioral health system quality of care and service capacity as needed to effectively serve families with parental substance use and child maltreatment issues
Improve collaboration and the system of service delivery between child welfare and mental health treatment providers
Families with at least one child younger than 6 who are in the child welfare system and have a parent whose substance use is determined to be a primary child safety risk factor.
- Women in START have higher rates of sobriety than their non-START child welfare-involved counterparts (66 percent vs. 36 percent).
- Children in START are 50 percent less likely to enter out-of-home placements than children from a matched comparison group.
- At case closure, more than 75 percent of children served by START remained with or were reunified with their parent(s).
- For every $1 spent on START, $2.22 is saved on out-of-home placement costs.
START is also recognized on the California Evidence Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (CEBC) as a program with promising research evidence.