Two years ago this month, the Family First Prevention Services Act became law and spurred bold reforms in child welfare. By realigning federal funding, Family First is driving system changes to keep more families safely together as well as improve the quality of foster care for children and youth who cannot remain safely at home.
Yet reforms are never easy. Thankfully, the recent passage of the Family First Transition Act in December 2019 provides needed financial support to state and tribal child welfare agencies to address challenges and further advance their Family First implementation efforts.
In order for these reforms to take hold, the field needs continued leadership and guidance. To that end, the Children Need Amazing Parents (CHAMPS) campaign is excited to see the Children’s Bureau recently issue two Information Memoranda (IM) on topics that, while often overlooked, can significantly strengthen and enhance family-based care, data-driven foster parent recruitment and retention and meaningful visitation time with birth families for children in foster care.
One IM highlights the importance of using technology to support the recruitment, approval and retention of foster homes. It shares how agencies can take a thoughtful, integrated approach to recruiting and retaining foster parents, and how they can leverage information technology to address important issues such as placing of sibling groups together, keeping children close to home, understanding true capacity of available foster families, the reasons why families stop fostering, and the characteristics of successful foster families.
With too many communities suffering from foster parent shortages, this is not an exercise in collecting data just for the sake of reporting it; this is using data to inform decision making that can positively impact a child’s life.
The second IM presents research, best practices, policy examples and recommendations to promote safe and meaningful family time and visitation for birth parents and their children in foster care. It highlights the positive outcomes associated with regular, meaningful family time, which include enhanced parent engagement, greater likelihood of reunification, expedited permanency, reduced likelihood of re-entry into foster care, and improved emotional well-being for parents and children.
These are the child-centered outcomes that we are all working toward. Foster, kinship and birth families should be supported to build relationships and positive visitation experiences are critical opportunities to do so. See our CHAMPS blog for a full summary of the recent IMs and for other information and resources.
CHAMPS urges agency leaders to consider how they can use these IMs to improve practice and policies. And we urge the Children’s Bureau to continue its leadership role by issuing additional Information Memoranda on critical topics such as how agencies can effectively support foster and kinship families. For example, foster parents report that the single most important factor in their ability to care for children, and the factor that most influences their desire to continue fostering, is the ability to connect with someone they trust to discuss how best to meet the needs of children in their care. The CHAMPS playbook features related policies that work such as providing foster parents timely access to trusted, dedicated staff and peer support.
Foster families, including kinship caregivers, are the backbone of our safety net for children who do enter foster care. Every community needs foster families who are well trained, supported and can play this critical caregiving role. These families also are important partners to birth families during their time of crisis. Foster and kinship families help children maintain family connections and safely reunify with their families or, in other cases, achieve permanency through adoption or guardianship.
Lynn Tiede is a senior policy adviser and state campaign manager for CHAMPS, which is leading statewide campaigns in 10 states and partnering with advocacy organizations in 30 other states.