Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts #9: Improve Federal Supports for Foster Parents

Calli Crowder, 25, a graduate of Regent University. Photo by Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

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 10 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 Calli Crowder, 25, a graduate of Regent University.

The Proposal

Crowder calls for three steps meant to bolster federal participation in supporting foster parents. First, she would establish a technical assistance grant program aimed at helping states maximize the existing federal dollars available for training foster parents. Federal IV-E entitlement funds for training were once limited to state and local child welfare workers; that changed 10 years ago under the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act.

Crowder would also establish what she calls a National Foster and Adoptive Parents Database, which would require “state child welfare agencies to collect and submit key data on foster parents, relative caregivers and adoptive families.” And finally, she would set up a new funding stream that allows states to reimburse foster families who engage their kids in youth development activities and other normal adolescent experiences.

The Argument

Ten years after Fostering Connections allowed for more foster parent training funds, Crowder writes, “many states still do not have the experience and support they need to take full advantage of the money.”

Crowder further argues that while the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) tracks outcomes for youth in foster care, there is no effort to track the supply or preparation of foster families. And for those foster parents willing to “go above and beyond” to provide normal childhood experiences, Crowder says they “should not have to dip into their own resources to make these opportunities possible.”

In Their Own Words

“It was often difficult for my siblings and me to do the things that other young people do. … If we wanted to stay over at a friend’s house, our friend’s parents would have to go through a background check, homestudy and walk through. When our church or school had overnights, we could not go.”

The Chronicle’s Take

Crowder touches on a critical issue in our time. One goal of the recently passed Family First Prevention Services Act is to limit the use of congregate care settings like group homes in foster care. At least in the short term, in some states that will mean a greater reliance on foster homes.

And that isn’t simply about recruiting them. It’s about making sure those parents are well trained and prepared to care for youth who have experienced the trauma of maltreatment and separation from family. If a small technical assistance pot can help maximize greater investment in that, it would be a huge win for the field.

Tools for Transformation, the most recent set of policy proposals from the Foster Youth Internship Program

As for the database concept: we at The Chronicle certainly agree that there is not enough public information about the various state networks of foster parents. We are currently working on the second iteration of our own project aimed at gauging the supply of foster homes, relative to the number of youth in foster care.

AFCARS actually does collect some state-by-state information about foster parents, including race and ethnicity as well as the number of parents in the household. But that information isn’t part of the public, annual AFCARS report put out each fall, which only includes data about youth. And the Child and Family Services Review process, a periodic assessment of state child welfare systems, also reviews the recruitment and retention of foster parents.

You could set up a national online center that produced an AFCARS-based report on foster parents and recruitment, and also served as a hub to post training and development opportunities for foster parents. This could also serve as a spot for foster parents to find youth development and “normalcy”-related activities.

Speaking of which, we like Crowder’s notion of a “normalcy fund” to support youth development activities. It would probably have to be a match situation with state funds in it as well, or perhaps added to a federal program instead of new money. Perhaps the Chafee Independent Living Program?

Congress took a light swipe at promoting such activities in 2014 when it required a state liaison on normalcy for foster youth, but this would put some resources behind giving kids opportunities like youth development programs, church trips, summer camps or sports leagues.

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