New Proposal Calls for Return on Investment in Federal Child Welfare Financing

Posted October 24, 2013
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Newsrelease whenchildweflareworks 2013

Restruc­tur­ing of fed­er­al child wel­fare funds should improve kin­ship and fam­i­ly fos­ter care, reduce the amount of time kids are in state care and end fed­er­al spend­ing on shel­ter and non-treat­ment group care, says a new pro­pos­al aimed at help­ing more kids grow up in families.

When Child Wel­fare Works: A Pro­pos­al to Finance Best Prac­tices,” a report and pro­pos­al from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion and the Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive, would trans­form the out­dat­ed 30-year-old sys­tem of fed­er­al fund­ing for child welf­Fare sys­tems to sup­port bet­ter out­comes for chil­dren and fam­i­lies while main­tain­ing the exist­ing over­all fund­ing level.

The orga­ni­za­tions pre­sent­ed their rec­om­men­da­tions at a Capi­tol Hill brief­ing for more than 150 pol­i­cy­mak­ers, child wel­fare experts, advo­cates, agency heads, judges and oth­ers inter­est­ed in improv­ing out­comes for chil­dren and fam­i­lies served by state and local child wel­fare systems.

The orga­ni­za­tions’ lead­ers said they hoped the ideas would be a spring­board for pol­i­cy delib­er­a­tions and inform thought­ful action. The report and oth­er resources from the brief­ing are avail­able online.

Every child deserves a fam­i­ly for life,” Patrick McCarthy, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Foun­da­tion, said in out­lin­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions. We need to align our financ­ing sys­tems with a sole goal – a for­ev­er fam­i­ly for every child.”

He said threats to exist­ing fed­er­al fund­ing for child wel­fare make the need urgent to cre­ate a sys­tem that encour­ages states to adopt best prac­tices. The cost of doing noth­ing is now far greater than ever before,” he said. The time to act is now.”

The rec­om­men­da­tions include steps that are fis­cal­ly respon­si­ble and prac­ti­cal in today’s uncer­tain pol­i­cy­mak­ing cli­mate, McCarthy said, and should be imple­ment­ed as a sin­gle pack­age with increased spend­ing in some areas and cuts in oth­ers. This is not an à la carte menu.”

Tracey Feild, direc­tor of Casey’s Child Wel­fare Strat­e­gy Group, not­ed that the cur­rent financ­ing sys­tem, cre­at­ed in 1980, fails to rec­og­nize what we know are the best prac­tices today.” For exam­ple, she said, the most impor­tant case­work func­tion, help­ing fam­i­lies deal with their prob­lems, is not reim­bursable by gov­ern­ment funds,” nor is train­ing for front-door” work­ers who first deal with fam­i­lies in cri­sis or ded­i­cat­ed ther­a­peu­tic services.

Gary Stan­gler, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Jim Casey Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ties Ini­tia­tive, said the lim­i­ta­tions of the fed­er­al financ­ing sys­tem for child wel­fare have been a sub­ject of frus­tra­tion and debate in the field for decades. I’m real­ly opti­mistic that we are ready to break out of this stale­mate and push this agen­da because it is an urgent sit­u­a­tion,” he said after the rec­om­men­da­tions were proposed.

A pan­el dis­cus­sion after the pol­i­cy pre­sen­ta­tion includ­ed Anne Marie Ambrose, com­mis­sion­er of the Philadel­phia Depart­ment of Human Ser­vices; Jere­my C. Kohom­ban, pres­i­dent and CEO of Children’s Vil­lage, which serves chil­dren, teens and fam­i­lies in New York with res­i­den­tial and com­mu­ni­ty-based pro­grams; Jarel Melen­dez, who spent about 15 years in kin­ship and fos­ter care place­ments and is now a mem­ber of the Nation­al Fos­ter Care Youth & Alum­ni Pol­i­cy Coun­cil; Retired Judge William A. Thorne of the Utah State Court of Appeals; and Aun­dré West, a fos­ter par­ent train­er and men­tor for Eck­erd Com­mu­ni­ty Alter­na­tives in Tam­pa, Fla.

Ambrose called for a relent­less sense of urgency” in over­haul­ing sys­tem financ­ing. We now know what works; we need fed­er­al finan­cial reform that enables us to do that,” she said. She called some of the rec­om­men­da­tions ambi­tious in their scale and said it would take the sup­port of oth­er key actors in the sys­tem, includ­ing the courts, to make the changes work.

The report calls for spe­cial fed­er­al focus on best prac­tices that help kids grow up in fam­i­lies. Fed­er­al reim­burse­ment should be elim­i­nat­ed for shel­ters and group care for chil­dren under 13, and allowed only for short peri­ods and only when nec­es­sary for res­i­den­tial treat­ment for old­er chil­dren. Over­all time lim­its should be set on reim­burse­ment for fos­ter care to encour­age states to lim­it its use, the report said. The rec­om­men­da­tions also call for strength­en­ing ther­a­peu­tic and sup­port­ive ser­vices to help fam­i­lies in car­ing safe­ly for their chil­dren and engag­ing oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers or known neigh­bors in offer­ing care, rather than unknown fos­ter par­ents, when­ev­er possible.

Group homes should nev­er be a [rou­tine] option,” said Melen­dez. It’s very cru­cial to ask the young peo­ple them­selves what they want and what they need.”

Kohom­ban said the major­i­ty of chil­dren who come to res­i­den­tial facil­i­ties such as his are not nec­es­sar­i­ly in need of res­i­den­tial treat­ment, which should be reserved for a cer­tain defin­able pop­u­la­tion of young peo­ple. Many young peo­ple placed in group set­tings have been ripped away from fam­i­lies, ripped away from com­mu­ni­ties. They are real­ly mad at all of us and incred­i­bly scared and afraid for their future, and so they exhib­it symp­toms that we then label as men­tal­ly ill,” he said.

Account­abil­i­ty for out­comes, train­ing for case­work­ers, inno­va­tion and flex­i­bil­i­ty that pro­mote effi­cien­cy and use of best prac­tices and tar­get­ed use of fund­ing are also rec­om­mend­ed prac­tices. The fam­i­lies are out there who want to love these chil­dren,” said West. We have to be pre­pared to find them and draw them in.”

Thorne said judges in fam­i­ly cas­es must be per­suad­ed to become informed skep­tics about rec­om­men­da­tions they wouldn’t accept for their own kids.” Bud­gets, he said, are moral doc­u­ments, and we ought to be sup­port­ing the things we know work.”

The report not­ed that its rec­om­men­da­tions do not address every aspect of the child wel­fare sys­tem that needs reform, nor do they address the state fund­ing that is the major­i­ty of child wel­fare spend­ing. But fed­er­al poli­cies are key dri­vers of sys­tem change, and if these pro­pos­als gen­er­ate a con­struc­tive dia­logue, we will have achieved our aim,” it said.

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