Quick Takeaways from López Q&A (Updated April 5)

Not gonna lie: When it took until last summer to get a new commissioner in at the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), Youth Services Insider lost interest in the happenings over there. One year left, under new leadership, felt very much like “run down the clock” mode.

All of the child welfare action in Washington, it seemed, was in Congress, where the Senate Finance Committee is developing the Family First Act (FFA).

But we came away from our interview with López – published last week – thinking that he, and his lead staffers, are genuinely motivated to make some sort of mark before the Obama administration calls it a day.

A few overarching thoughts we had after our time with López:

The president would sign the Family First Act. No administration would pass judgment on a bill that didn’t have any official status yet, and that is where FFA stands at the moment. But Lopez was clear that the administration would “welcome legislation that … places opportunities to invest in and scale prevention services to help children, youth and families across the country.”

The existing draft of the bill, he said, would be “a game changer for the social sector in this country.”

Why is early executive branch support significant? It certainly won’t persuade any Republicans to get on board. But the bill is likely to have limitations on federal funds for congregate care, and there could be some advocates and entities looking to push against that. Take López’s responses as a signal that the White House is okay with those limits.

LGBT protections coming for adults and kids. López suggested that by the end of his time at ACYF, the office will produce “comprehensive guidance” that, among other things, makes certain that “same-sex couples who want to foster and adopt are welcomed and are able to do so.”

Since he uttered those words, the Department of Health and Human Services announced funding for a proposed national center focused on improving the quality of services tailored to LGBT youth in foster care.

The center will be funded through a five-year, $2 million cooperative agreement to work with up to six states on creating systems “of successful supports and interventions that specifically support the permanency” of LGBT youth in the child welfare system.

We will be very interested to see if that guidance takes on the issue of faith-based child welfare contractors and their ability to discriminate on which prospective foster and adoptive parents they work with (and which ones they won’t work with).

In 2011, Illinois jump-started this debate by canceling the contracts of any provider that would not work with gay or unmarried couples. This happened after the state’s civil union law took effect.

A few summers ago, Youth Services Insider saw Sarah Torre of the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation present at a federal policy roundtable, arguing for the need to shield faith-based child welfare providers from the implications of same-sex marriage and civil union laws.

Since then, several states have seen legislation move in the past two years that protects such agencies from repercussions for refusing to recruit, train or assess same-sex foster and adoptive homes. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed such legislation in 2015, and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) will have to decide very soon whether to follow suit. UPDATE: Bryant signed the bill into law today, April 5.

In Nebraska, Sen. Mark Kolterman  pulled his version of a protection bill  last week rather than lose via filibuster.

“It’ll be back,” Sen. Mark Kolterman told the Lincoln Journal-Star.

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