Family First Act, Proposed Overhaul of IV-E, Dies as Senate Adjourns

The U.S. Senate adjourned this afternoon, and in doing so ended any chance for the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016, a bill that would have dramatically altered the federal IV-E entitlement, the largest conduit of funds to states for child welfare services.

Family First was conceived of by Senate Finance Committee leaders Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and paired two legislative objectives: increasing federal investment in services aimed at preventing the need for foster care, and curbing federal spending on congregate care.

Wyden and Hatch negotiated a bill with House Ways and Means leadership that used a delay in new federal spending on adoption assistance to make the act a cost-neutral proposition. Ways and Means marked Family First up in June, and it passed in the House the next week.

The hope was to “hotline” Family First in the Senate before the summer recess, but the bill started to meet opposition from state and county leadership in California, New York and Washington. Ultimately, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) placed holds on the bill.

The Senate will return for a lame duck session after the election, but it will be too late for Family First. When the new fiscal year begins on Saturday, it will wipe away the $500 million offset provided to the bill through the delay on adoption assistance funding.

So what comes next in terms of federal child welfare policy? The Congressional focus in fiscal year 2017 will likely be on the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which was established as part of the Affordable Care Act and needs an extension. Two other big youth- and family-related items up for reauthorization: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

You might see movement on some more modest pieces of legislation, like the proposal to add foster youth to a federal work tax credit started for veterans. But as far as broad finance reform, the guess from Youth Services Insider is that it could be awhile.

Youth Services Insider could see both of Family First Act’s architects, Wyden and Hatch, continuing to pursue reforms on their own. Before Family First came together, Wyden was pushing a much more expensive bill that provided a much wider array of time-limited services to help families at imminent risk of entering foster care, the same standard that found its way into Family First.

Hatch’s priority is curbing congregate care funding. As far back as 2013, he has previously introduced legislation that would forbid states to use federal money in the placement of a youth under age 13 into congregate care, while setting a one-year limit on funds for older youths.

“Chairman Hatch remains committed” to ensuring that “the provisions in the Families First Prevention Services Act – particularly those that would reduce reliance on unsafe and inappropriate group homes – are able to become law,” said Senate Finance Committee Spokesman Aaron Forbes, in a statement provided to YSI today.

Opponents of Family First in California and New York offered several criticisms of the bill, many of which boiled down to a central problem. Child welfare leaders in both states felt their states had already recalibrated their systems around prevention-oriented systems and less congregate care, and a massive shift in federal support would threaten the new ecosystem.

Leadership on the bill sought to assure critics that much could be worked out in cleanup legislation and federal program guidelines. But with a new administration on the way, and the potential for turnover in Congress, that overture was never taken seriously.

The most recent round of federal waivers on IV-E funds expire in fiscal 2019, which is the year that Family First provisions would have taken effect. It seems unlikely now that another major reform will come along until that date is a little closer on the horizon.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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  1. Reform is required. A better system of oversight and accountability for the so-called social service system is desperately needed. The excuse of the system and workers being overburdened and overworked is just that, AN EXCUSE!!! It’s time to re-focus the efforts on prevention and solutions. Local and state social service agencies are great at identifying issue, concerns, and problems in families. It’s time they start working with families to develop and implement solutions to these problems. Work to keep families together and strengthen them, that will improve communities and the nation as a whole.

  2. I don’t understand why there is so much abuse in foster care it reall needs to be looked @ hard all states. When the president of the U.S. has the power to change things he should. I am sicken by how many of these children in the care of so called social workers are abused & murdered. Why is this happening children should not be moved around as they are. The state system is broken & they simply do not care about these children. These so called social workers do not do there jobs take children out of homes that dhould have never been taken. It does not require much to be a foster parent , that is why all these bad things are happening to God’s children. These children do not belong to the state, they may think they do there wrong, someone has to help them , to many children are dying everyday @ the hands of the states.

  3. Stop the Families First Act. Stop funding the kidnapping.
    Quit calling child abductions “protection”
    What kind of sick mind thinks the States should get BONUSES
    Adopting children out like they’re doing???
    Bunch of lying monsters

  4. Stop the Funding and Incentives and DCF will crumble to the ground. Families then will begin to be restored instead of traumitized

  5. We need to preserve families. Come on people get your act together Congress. I’m losing my grandson because of a biased judges said in court he was a foster child. Families first needs to move through house senate. Don’t you know children are being forced away from families due to money. This is happening all over the United states. I mean how hard is it to put families first when they have no criminal records go to church and stay in a position in their jobs permanently for 20 plus yrs. This is sickening. Now you have a child thinking this family is his biological and then the child is confused when he is older wondering what happened to his family. Preserve families is what needs to happen not forcibly making the family sign rights away. You all have the money to fight these monsters and the average American can’t. Wow please sign this bill.

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