Obama Administration Still Weighing Family First Act

The Family First Prevention Services Act, which would dramatically alter the federal IV-E entitlement, has passed the House and has returned to the Senate, where it was birthed by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Should it pass, the bill then lands on the desk of President Barack Obama. And the administration has not yet decided if it will endorse the legislation.

From a statement provided to Youth Services Insider, issued by the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), the agency that oversees IV-E funding at the Department of Health and Human Services:

While we don’t have a formal position on the House-passed bill yet, we’re encouraged that it contains versions of two important proposals from our Budget and share the overall goal of the effort to improve life for children in [the] child welfare system.

It is hardly surprising that the administration is undecided. A new version of the legislation surfaced, was marked up by House Ways and Means, and passed by the House, all since June 11. It is also worth noting that Family First’s legislative managers have not asked the White House to weigh in.

It is worth noting that, in a March interview with The Chronicle, ACYF Commissioner Rafael López suggested that an earlier iteration of the bill would have Obama’s support. The following are two questions from that interview:

Chronicle: The Family First Act being worked on now in the Senate Finance Committee would enable states to use Title IV-E funds for prevention-side services. What is the administration’s view of that bill?

López: I would say the administration has not taken a formal position on the bill, partly because it’s still in draft form. So when the bill is dropped, we’ll take a hard look at it.

We would welcome legislation that, again, flipped the script on the narrative of child welfare in this country and places opportunities to invest in and scale prevention services to help children, youth and families across the country.

If, as the bill is currently proposed, we are able to use Title IV-E to fund prevention, that will be a game changer for the social sector in this country.

Chronicle: It would be a pretty drastic departure from the current federal role.

López: What we often see in the child welfare system is this pipeline. A struggling family early on: the cause is domestic violence, the cause is substance abuse, the cause is mental health. They don’t get help they need, so kids are removed and placed in foster care.

Then, those same kids struggle to get through school. They either don’t graduate from high school or don’t get a job. Then those same kids, who were in care or in group homes, become victims or targets of trafficking or become homeless.

So the data is pretty compelling in this country that, by and large, children who remain in the child welfare system do not have overwhelmingly positive results from being in the system. And it’s one of the most costly systems.

So why wouldn’t we try something different? Why don’t we have a greater sense of urgency to flip the script, not only on child welfare but many of these systems that just don’t seem to work well for children and families?

The Family First Act would permit federal reimbursement for certain time-limited services aimed at preventing the use of foster care. It would also greatly limit the federal contribution to expenditures on congregate care settings such as residential treatment and group homes.

A few links to our coverage of the current bill:

Bill to Overhaul Child Welfare Funds Will Move in Both Chambers

What You Need to Know about the New Family First Bill

Family First Update: Home Recruitment Added; Hints at Cost; Many Supporters Stay on Board

House Passes Child Welfare Finance Reform Bill

The Family First Prevention Services Act: A Mixed Bag of Reform

Family First Bill: CBO Projects Long-Term Savings, Does Not Expect Big Drop in Congregate Care

Click here to read all of The Chronicle‘s continuing coverage of the Family First Prevention Services Act.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1210 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at jkelly@chronicleofsocialchange.org.