Last week, The Chronicle of Social Change published an interview with Jerry Milner, who is the acting commissioner for the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF). In a long line of alphabet soup within the Department of Health Human Services, ACYF is the agency with direct control over most child welfare spending by the federal government.
Youth Services Insider was intrigued to find that the Trump administration shares the view of its predecessor that front-end child welfare services should be more of a priority.
The Chronicle interviewed Rafael López, Obama’s final ACYF, in 2016. He spoke of a desire that the feds help “flip the script” on child welfare.
By the time kids and families get to the programs we fund, there’s a crisis.
What if we actually flipped the script and put most of the money on the prevention side? Families getting the services they need before a crisis happened could prevent a pattern of needing both high-end and costly services that, quite frankly, haven’t always proven to work.
Milner expressed a similar point of view in his interview with The Chronicle:
We are very interested in changing our current system so that it strengthens the resiliency of families as our primary intervention and gives children what they need to thrive.
Right now, we typically respond only after families have lost much of their protective capacity and children have been harmed. We need to strive to create environments where they get the support they need before the harm occurs, which, in my mind, calls for a reconceptualization of the mission and functioning of child welfare systems.
López waited a year to be confirmed, and took the helm at ACYF with about a year left in Obama’s last term. The agency’s efforts were mostly directed at finalizing rules and regulations on federal data collection, Native American youth and LGBT issues.
Milner, should he stick around, has a bigger window to advance the cause of prevention and family preservation.
The future of federal child welfare financing will come up during Milner’s watch if he’s around next year, when the most recent round of Title IV-E waivers expire. IV-E is the entitlement through which HHS helps states pay for foster care and adoption, and the waivers have enabled states to experiment with other uses for the money.
Congress will have the final say on whether a new round of waivers is possible, or if a bill to more permanently inject front-end flexibility into IV-E is in play. But the White House can certainly play a role in those discussions if it chooses.
If you are interested in federal juvenile justice and child welfare policy, read our special issue “Kids on the Hill” absolutely free. Just hit this LINK.