Federal “Family Connections” Grants Lose Offset, in Jeopardy

Family Connections grants were a modest, $15 million-per-year inclusion in the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. Hardly a huge splash, the discretionary grants were disbursed for various efforts to improve a system’s ability to find relative caregivers for children that were already in foster care or would otherwise be headed there.

It looked like a fresh round of same-level funding was in the works as part of the adoption incentives reauthorization, as both the House and Senate version of the legislation included the grants at $15 million. Now, Youth Services Insider is hearing that the grants are in serious jeopardy because its intended fiscal offset was used in the bipartisan budget agreement.

From an Action Alert circulated this week by the Child Welfare League of America:

Congress is dragging their feet to pass the bipartisan Adoption Incentives reauthorization and the Family Connections Grants (which have now expired). The delay has already caused us to lose the funding that was found for the Family Connections Grants to be extended.

Here’s the situation:

The House quickly introduced and unanimously passed an adoption incentives bill this fall. It included $15 million for Family Connections, and paid for that with an offset from the unemployment insurance program.

Had the Senate initially rolled with the House iteration, the reauthorization might have been completed before the budget deal in December, though there was certainly no guarantee of that. But the Senate introduced a version of adoption incentives that includes several other child welfare reforms, including limitations on federal reimbursement on long-term foster care and a requirement to track failed adoptions.

The Senate also included Family Connections grants, and pays for them by reallocating money from the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). There is some support for the additional reforms in the Senate bill, but YSI was told there is little support from either side of the aisle when it comes to carving up SSBG.

This all means that unless another offset is found, Family Connections grants will be on the outside looking in if and when an adoption incentives package makes its way to President Obama.

We asked one advocate close to the situation whether there was a natural offset to fall back on.

“Not as far as they are concerned,” the advocate said, referring to Congressional appropriations leaders.There are multi-billion dollar offsets necessary for Medicare and tax credit deductions, but somehow for child welfare, “$15 million a year is the moon.”

The allowable uses for the Family Connections grants are:

  • Kinship navigator programs
  • Programs utilizing intensive family-finding efforts to locate biological family and reestablish relationships
  • Programs utilizing family group decision-making meetings
  • Residential family treatment programs

Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle Editor-in-Chief John Kelly

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