Massive Child Welfare Finance Bill Planned for 2016

Senate Finance Committee leadership plans to meld several major child welfare financing shifts into one bill called the Families First Act (FFA).

The act, which will be introduced next year, would likely mark the biggest change in federal child welfare policy since the passage of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act in 1980.

We have heard rumblings about the pending legislation for weeks now, and normally, Youth Services Insider loathes reporting on bills that have not been introduced with the full language. Too often, in our opinion, the fine print matters.

But based mostly on Beltway discussions and a memo circulated by Finance staff, FFA already has the support of at least 33 child welfare advocacy groups.

We’ll go more in depth on this soon, but here is what YSI knows about Families First thus far:

IV-E for Families

The act would for the first time permit states to use Title IV-E reimbursement to help keep families in crisis together or reunify. These services would have a 12-month clock, after which federal IV-E funds cease.

The IV-E foster care entitlement – by far the largest federal child welfare expenditure at about $4 billion per year – is currently structured only to support foster care placements. Many believe that guarantee of federal support for foster care leads to unnecessary use of those placements.

Heretofore, the only way to use IV-E outside of the foster care realm has been through a waiver process overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services. Those waivers run out in 2019, which is when the changes in this bill would take effect.

The structure is likely to mirror what Wyden has proposed in the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act of 2015.

Congregate Care Limits

The act would put the kibosh on federal funds for group care after a two-week period. The fine print will likely include a lot of exceptions to this that exempts health-related placements and settings that enable siblings to stay together.

But beyond the exceptions, agencies will only have federal support for group homes for 14 days. The distinction between foster home and group home, by the way, will probably be the presence of six or more foster youth in one home.

There has been a year of dialogue on Capitol Hill about the appropriate role of congregate care in foster care; or more to the point, how much the federal government should support its use.

One view, championed by Hatch, was to draw a line in the sand and limit funds for group care. He favored a one-year limit for older teens, and a ban on congregate care for younger children in the system. Others favored an approach that did not set limits, but required systems to demonstrate the need for group care placement to a judge. 

Eligibility Split

As is true of Wyden’s existing legislative plan, the newly allowed front-end services in IV-E will not be restricted by an income test. But the foster care reimbursements will continue to be contingent on a 1996 income test that most child welfare advocates agree is, at best, outdated.

We could see this provision drawing an equal amount of cheers and jeers. Nobody really likes the income test on IV-E foster care, so it’s doubtful anyone will clamor for an inclusion of that test on the front end.

But one child welfare observer already voiced concern to YSI that having an income test on foster care and not on preservation could flip the whole “perverse incentive” conundrum around. Right now, IV-E could be seen as incentivizing foster care. Would the opposite be true in this new scheme? And is that a good thing, or a bad thing?

IV-B Bolstered

The time-limited family preservation services allowed in Title IV-B, a far smaller non-entitlement account, will essentially become part of the IV-E entitlement.

Meanwhile, time limits will be family reunification funding under IV-B. The bill will also establish a capped, mandatory account exclusively for helping families in crisis situations.

Bipartisan Support

The act combines legislative initiatives championed by Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and ranking minority member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Wyden has pushed for greater federal investment in preventing the need for foster care, while Hatch is interested in limiting the use of congregate care for kids in the system. Both men have been supportive of the other’s child welfare policy goals in recent years, and will now present a united front.

Organizational Support

As mentioned, Families First already has support from nearly three dozen organizations that we know about, and a bill hasn’t even been produced yet. Among the supporters who signed onto a support letter penned by First Focus: The Mockingbird Society, the Juvenile Law Center, and Kentucky Youth Advocates.

YSI will be very interested to see where the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities comes down on this one. The Alliance represents hundreds of child welfare providers, including many organizations that provide congregate care.

The Alliance had put its own finance reform plans on the back burner to support Wyden’s original legislation this year. Will it support something with at least one severe regulation of group settings?

Significant Price Tag

We’re hearing the bill will likely score in the billions when the Congressional Budget has fully analyzed it. So while Families First will have support from two powerful Senators, getting this through the House of Representatives will be a tall task.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 912 Articles
John Kelly is senior editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.

8 Comments

  1. I want my grandson home. Can someone help families Reunite? They say in court I’m an awesome grandmother but because the gal attorney stood up and said he was a foster child my grandson would be better off with foster family cause he was. It’s a big problem in our courts today. Then you have a judge that says. Oh well I don’t really think you want him anyway. Case denied. Yes there is something wrong with our family courts. It wasn’t the social worker this time. They wanted me to have my grandchild. It’s our courts deciding families are not the best interest. May God help us all and set our families free in the name of Jesus. An accountability should be in our family court systems that is suppose to protect the innocence. But in my case it was based on how they felt. Now how would my grandson feel if they decided his fate family is not good enough for him. Lord help us all.

  2. My name is Stefanie Magness, Executive Director of the Coalition of Residential Excellence (formerly Coalition for Residential Education). The Families First Act proposal is significant because while it encourages federal dollars to be used on prevention services and encourages the placement of children in foster care to be in the most family like settings and appropriate to their special needs, it discourages the use of residential programs except in more treatment like settings.

    The bill while supporting some types of residential group care, places the most emphasis on using group care as a last resort and in a treatment like setting. Our member programs provide quality care in family like community settings are being placed in the category of residential treatment programs. There lacks a designation for our types of community programs.

    We believe children will be ultimately hurt by this bill if implemented without consideration for programs that fall in between a foster home and a residential treatment. Our programs are education focused, encourages family engagement, encourages extra-curricular activities and most are faith based. They are producing results but are not residential treatment programs.

    This bill forces residential programs into a medical model of care with which does not ensure better outcomes for children. With no designation for programs like our membership, children will be denied services. They will end up being unnecessarily labeled just to access care in a unnecessary treatment program.

    Stefanie Magness
    Executive Director
    Coalition of Residential Excellence (formerly Coalition for Residential Education)
    http://www.residentialeducation.org
    Stefanie@residentialeducation.org

  3. Statistics show that children removed from their parents suffer a lot more than those who are able to stay at home, even if the parents are going through tough times. At least 8 of 10 taken by CPS could easily stay home with a little help. If we had only 20% of children in foster care than we do now, wouldn’t that help immensely?
    ‪#‎MelissaDiegel‬ ‪#‎TheArizonaTeam‬ http://www.amiraclefortwosisters.org

  4. TitIe IV-E reimbursement extended? With a one year window? Please, the CPS and others involved in family court know how to maneuver and align themselves ( to benefit the state budget). Understand, it is the state ‘that is awarded and budgets the money’—not the parent or child.

    Often, it takes no less than two years for parents to get their children back. They are the ones who need their funds replenished. I know there were weeks where I spent 2-3 days a week either visiting an attorney, social worker, limited visitation with my child and
    / or in the courtroom. I lost valuable time at college where most parents lose valuable credibility at work, and loss of wages. One year window is NOT enough and does NOT reflect a support for parents. In my case, I traveled 2-6 hours twice a month to visit one of my children. I never saw a dime for my gas BUT these funds were most definitely paid in full by taxpayers like myself—a retired veteran.

    Congregate care: Agree, put a time limit on it. I’m not comforted that a judge makes the final decision (since they are pressured indirectly by those interested in the state budget). They kept extending my son’s care while his fraternal sister was unable to visit him at all—no transportation support. Foster parents didn’t think it was in her best interest. (in fact, they don’t think my daughter needs any emotional ties with her
    *real* family). Daughter attempted suicide over ‘familial issues’. So, the babysitter was awarded custody. what crock?

    Eligibility split. Folks, it IS incentivized already, that’s not going to change without outside (continuous improvement, customer service, and performance based AUDITS—which, I’ve heard nothing about in this article.

    Title IV-B bolster? Combining the two? Oh boy……..guess who will get those
    funds?

    Bipartisan support: It is a theory. Support programs are woefully lacking both in
    our schools and mental / behavioral health.

  5. Funny that the SSA titles are used when there are also cfc donations specifically slated for these purposes, I unfortunately have lost four grandchildren directly to the DHR Alabama and after 26 years of donations these agencies and what research Personal research and experiences I have are very negative as I indirectly I lost a daughter and three other grandchildren two years earlier. These secret registries are not saving children but destroying lives and families due to this amnesty being unchecked and not controlled watching the internet immediately after in take my grandchildren began a period of deprograming and name changing with 20-30 days this has been posted in the Internet and ignored by social services both within the state and the HHS. https://www.facebook.com/felecia.pate?fref=ts
    her removal started in July 2010 we been through two very one sided trials where as disabled the mother was excluded because of her disabilities and what she had accomplished in her poverty was raise a happy and tightly entwined children but since the intake methodically indoctrinating these children that they were removed due to drug abuse and prostitution has left the family overall shattered from Michigan to Florida. the social workers in this one sided trial and the governmental attorneys have to date defined what Negative hair follicle test mean and who authorized the children to search pornographic websites of Back Page. If I had known the circumstance in 1973 , that my children and grandchildren would have subjected to methods of desegregation and mental torture I would have resigned and joined these anti CPS organizations long ago
    What I experienced is the use of the constitution to providing support to the agencies and they denied the very basics to the parents and block any assistance to the parents in fabrications in our cases and some of the fostering parents while their intentions overall are admirable, the people in general selected are not up to the written standards because of exceptions to certain qualifications , see that posting above is public access and the document shown her and her siblings were when shown to the webmaster of back page was found one fabricated and not possible there is not any chat rooms or instant messing in their system of any of the facial files of their mother in their escort advertisements.
    the distribution of this information was done, according to the record of the trial, without decresion or verification or authenification the family caring for the divided sibling groups over the past years have maintained the segregation of siblings from the first day of intake through separate a groups like fostering is David and John Masterson and upon the completion of the first trial the appeal reversed the judges decision upon we discover in the first hearing after the reversal the children, who stayed in Johns house hold had been sexually molested and beaten,they were adopted out upon discovery in Aug 2012 this was discovered in Jan 2014, their older sibling and the staff and fosters revealed the back page announcement that they had searching those web sites bi weekly since Late sept 2010 and so these children distributing fabricated porn designed to alter their minds and never published in the website lived in their foster home separately experiencing this in David Mastersons home while their fostered uncle molested and got away with his crimes over two years earlier. All of the adoption and the porn exposure hidden from trials and obstructed from the trial by the judge. in the second btrial in front of the same judge the porn issues were confirmed during examinations and using a fifteen day continuance was pushed aside and mostly edited out of the transcripts, again we went thru the paappelate processes after the Oct 2014 trial which you would expect this whole thing thrown out, nope the attorney general Luther Strange had sat in too stare myself and the other grandfather down in Jul 2014 in a hearing , in June 2015 filed a Rule 52 violation and issues in that complaint pointed to the transcripts were both altered that were sent forward for the appeals in both trials the judge a drug court judge in the interest of convicting would not make the social worker in the first trial define what a negative drug test defined. in the second trial the mother in the decision cast by the same judge declared due to over 16 months of no visitation and non attendance at ministry based drug counseling like N/A, the mother’s rights again were removed and reading the rule fifty two and back checking the transcript’s of both trials the mother of these children was convicted outside the courtroom in her family long before any trial and her children being taught the the right things but shown that the mother was a prostitute first and a drug addict second convicted the mother in both trials the adoption that was held secret and the children removed Jan 2014 never considered as it covered the 16 moths of non attendance of visitation.
    Officials both stae and federal were informed of most of the situations and absolutely nothing investigated except after notifying the state we had a very rushed and quick trial after Jun 2014 and the states personal attorney general using altered records that are missing page and added dates that the trial was not adoptions were done using falsified Family care meeting and false evidence that was not represented as evidence in trials as the hair follicle test found by the mother as negative being intentionally over looked that were court ordered were negative now on adoption application answers is the same test spoken of and recorded as positive. Though its legally described in the defense of my family I could use force, Being a retired combat arms soldier, Infantry I know the damage of PTSD only too well but I also know the difference in just and unjust ……All I asked was the state to provided the children with the correct facts and in stead they doing their best even bringing the AG who exposed it all doing favors not doing his job the molester released all punitive action in John Mastersons family was the removal of the foster licens theson/adult that statutorily raping younggirls in his parent charge and the babies beaten was never charged but never did the AG investigate he did hisnjudge buddy a favor as the judge openly threatened in the Jan 2014 hearing in front of his drug court attendees as he intentionally held our spot till late each time to harass the mothers support and increase the cost of defending her innocence in this case , I am helping to take this to federal courts of our district and it been distributed to many of the PAS organisations and Anti CPS organizations as this beyond belief and the more or less have publically done this over a six year period

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