Family First Roller Coaster Continues: In One Minute, Out the Next

As news spread that the Family First Preservation Services Act had been folded into the larger 21st Century Cures Act, Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH) got its social media machine going to fight the move. A post on the organization’s Facebook page on November 28:

We need you to call Virginia Foxx [R-N.C.], Vice-Chair of the House Rules Committee! Lawmakers have renewed efforts to pass the Family First Act which could essentially eliminate placing children in the care of residential organizations like BCH.

YSI-MB-PageThe call to action flooded Foxx’s D.C. line, and then the one at her home office in North Carolina. Foxx, who said yesterday that she has volunteered at congregate care programs before, was among the members who immediately protested the inclusion of the Family First Act. At least one of the two North Carolina senators, either Richard Burr or Thom Tillis (both Republicans) raised an objection as well.

They succeeded, and now Family First is on the outside looking in as perhaps the only piece of lame duck legislation to get a vote this year moves forward.

Today, BCH was singing a much happier tune online:

We have wonderful news to share! We received word that the Family Prevention Services Act … has been removed from that piece of legislation. In other words, FAMILY FIRST HAS BEEN DEFEATED. THANK YOU for your calls, letters, emails, and most of all your prayers. We have seen God work in a mighty way!

Since then, Youth Services Insider has it on good authority that Family First nearly made it back into the Cures Act today, and was again stymied by objections. It is, without question, the weirdest roller coaster ride YSI has ever seen a youth-related bill go on.

So what drove BCH to fight the act? Its initial Facebook post on Monday suggests an obvious starting point: Leadership believes that its enactment would “essentially eliminate placing children in the care of residential organizations like BCH.”

“We are always motivated by what is in the best interests of children,” said Chief Operating Officer Keith

A North Carolina group pushed hard on social media to fight the Family First Act's inclusion in a bigger bill
A North Carolina group pushed hard on social media to fight the Family First Act’s inclusion in a bigger bill

Henry, in a statement e-mailed to Youth Services Insider. “Every child’s situation is unique, and the specific care one child needs is not going to be the same for another. It is important that all options of care be available to children.”

Foxx echoed that sentiment at yesterday’s Rules Committee. She told the chairman she told interested parties after Family First was removed from the Cures Act that “they’d have time to make their case now for why one-size-fits-all system doesn’t apply.”

This emanates from the Family First provisions on congregate care, which definitely do not eliminate placements to residential organizations. They do, however, put the cost of such placements on the state after two weeks, with several very significant exceptions: qualified residential treatment programs (QRTP), and programs that house and serve pregnant teens, those over 18, or children who have been or at risk of being trafficked.

For placements that do not meet those criteria, states would have to assume the cost after 14 days. According to Henry, 20 percent of BCH’s residential program is paid for with federal IV-E dollars.

That is a significant chunk of change, to be sure. But based on other information Henry gave us, YSI isn’t so sure they’d have lost that money anyway.

The first exception on congregate care, for qualified residential treatment programs, requires a few characteristics to be true of a program. The most onerous: accreditation, and the presence of clinical and nursing staff, although that language has been softened in the recent version.

According to Henry, BCH is accredited by the Council on Accreditation, and “we do have clinicians on staff and through Memorandum of Agreements.”

But the North Carolina delegation is not the only group fighting inclusion of Family First. YSI heard from one child welfare leader pushing hard for the bill that the objecting Senators from this summer – Jon Cornyn (R-Texas), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) – are still holding against the bill.

Guess we’ll see what tomorrow brings!

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

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