Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #5: A National Standard of Care for Foster Youth

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C. Today we highlight the recommendation of Tiffany Boyd, a student at California State University-Dominguez Hills.

The Proposal

Boyd would have Congress take several steps designed to establish, and enforce, national quality of care standards tied to funds distributed to states via the multi-billion dollar Title IV-E block grant.

First, she would have HHS establish a national panel tasked with revisiting the Child and Family Service Reviews (CFSR) to reassess the measures that “pertain to the quality of care standard.”

Tiffany Boyd, a student at California State University-Dominguez Hills

Next, she would have Congress develop incentives and other policies designed to sweeten the federal deal for states that moved to improve the quality of services for youth in care. “States who exceed the standard in the CFSR should be allotted an incentive payment or an increased matching rate,” Boyd writes.

Finally, Boyd would have Congress require that each state agency establish a state commission, comprised of some slate of diversified stakeholders in child welfare, that monitored the quality of care and reported directly to the director of the state’s IV-E agency.

Says Boyd: “Every director should meet with this commission when introducing new strategies, implementing new policies and seeking innovative ideas to transform the child welfare system.”

The Argument

Foster youth are vastly underrepresented in higher education, and vastly overrepresented among those who are homeless, jailed or seeking help for mental health issues. This, Boyd argues, is an intrinsic violation of their right to the pursuit of a happy and healthy life, “as promised in the Declaration of Independence.”

In Her Own Words

Boyd writes of the disparate outcomes for her and her siblings. While Boyd was allowed to remain in the custody of her grandmother and has thrived, other members of her family and friends in the system have struggled with mental health challenges and criminal justice involvement.

“I am considered to be the lucky one for having a loving grandmother to provide for me … Unfortunately, at this point in my life, I cannot agree. I do not believe that it is ok … nor appropriate to consider me to be lucky or an exception for having someone in my corner who loved me. This should be the standard.”

The Chronicle‘s Take

Boyd entitled her proposal, “Simply Put: We Deserve Quality.” We found the choice of “quality” over “equality” compelling, because it extricates the argument from a comparative one between foster youth and other youth.

Equality sort of presupposes that all non-foster youth have some consistently similar path to the happy and healthy life Boyd references. Of course, that is not the case. But the use of quality made us think of a recent comment made to The Chronicle by Iowa’s child welfare director, Jerry Foxhoven.

“We pick these parents,” Foxhoven said, discussing the need to monitor foster and adoptive parents. “You can’t really compare them to birth parents. We expect more out of foster and adoptive parents than birth parents.”

He might as well have been talking about the entire system, not just parents. Foster youth deserve quality because they didn’t pick this system, it was forced on them. The least it can do is leave them on a path that is more likely to lead to college than to jail or the streets.

Boyd proposes a national standard of care to be developed by an expert panel, measured through the CFSR process, and monitored and informed up close by state commissions.

All of this would be pegged to federal penalties and incentives. Boyd mentions only incentives, but CFSR is already tied to a penalty structure that has not been used much by HHS yet, even though no state has actually passed a CFSR since the process started under George W. Bush.

In general, Congress is pretty loath to impose strict national standards. And they don’t always survive when it does happen. One recent casualty would be the academic standards in No Child Left Behind; another might soon be the essential health benefits included in the Affordable Care Act.

That said, the federal influence on foster care is significant. Federal funds represent a small sum of overall education spending; they represent a much larger portion of the dollars spent on foster care. So if Congress was compelled to set national standards for the quality of care, it could do so with potential fiscal teeth behind them.

There are national standards already for licensing foster parents, and for data collection. Developing a unified code for the quality of services would be harder than that, but certainly national regulation of foster care is not without precedent.

Boyd’s ideas dovetail nicely with those of her colleague, Htet Htet Rodgers, who we profiled yesterday. Development of Rodger’s proposed foster youth taxonomy would make it far more possible to collect the type of information one would need to nationally patrol the quality of state foster care.

Click here to read the full report, including all of the FYI proposals.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1131 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.