Earlier this month, our colleagues at California Youth Connection (CYC) submitted a letter to Senator Barbara Boxer, who has placed a hold on the Family First Prevention Services Act (S. 3065/H.R. 5456).
We at FosterClub admire the work of CYC, but we think they have it wrong on the Family First Act. Below, we provide a response to CYC’s rationale for not supporting Family First.
This document is long, but federal child welfare policy and the Family First Act are complicated. We think it’s worth taking the time to fundamentally understand what’s at stake. This is particularly important for California young leaders because currently Senator Boxer of California is one of only three Senators currently holding Family First from moving forward.
Once you review this document, if you would like more information about how the Family First Act would benefit youth affected by foster care, check out a recording of our webinar.
George White Celeste Bodner
Policy Specialist (and California alumni) Executive Director
Note: you can review CYC’s letter here, attached below
The objections below are drawn directly from CYC’s letter.
Objection #1: An overly narrow set of prevention services that focuses on the needs of the parent that the child is being removed from while failing to provide any meaningful support for the relatives who the youth is likely to be living with during attempted rehabilitation.
It is true the set of prevention services offered through the Family First Prevention Services Act are fairly narrow. However, the passage of this bill would provide for a continuation of the prevention services that California is already offering under the IV-E Waiver Program. The Waiver is set to expire in 2019, so if this legislation is not passed, California will take steps backwards and may lose some of the prevention services now in place.
Further, most states lack the extensive prevention services California offers to families in crisis. This means that a child in another state is much more likely to be taken into foster care rather than receive the services that might allow them to stay with their family while a parent receives mental health or substance abuse services. We’ve heard from our young people that entering foster care can be highly traumatic, and if that experience can safely be avoided, it should.
Regarding meaningful support for relative caregivers: the Family First Act does nothing to change the level of support that is available for relative caregivers. It would stay the same as it is currently.
Objection #2: The risk of youth losing potential eligibility for federal foster care benefits upon entrance into foster care in cases where those very prevention services are unsuccessful.
This is a tricky one to explain, so it’s easy to see why CYC got it wrong. We’ll try to explain the scenario in which a youth could potentially become ineligible for federal foster care reimbursement, and why it shouldn’t stop Family First from moving forward.
If a family is in crisis, prevention services could be offered to prevent the youth from entering foster care (that’s a good thing). The youth may go to live with a relative while a parent receives services. Let’s say the prevention services last for six months and the youth stays with the relative the entire time. Then, let’s assume the prevention services don’t work, and in month 7 the youth needs to enter foster care, but would go into foster care from the relative’s home (in the case where the relative kicks the youth out, for instance). In this case (and only in this type of case), it is possible that the state would not receive IV-E federal funding to pay for a portion of the youth’s foster care cost.
There would be a really easy solution for this. A caseworker could open a case for the youth anytime prior to the end of the 6-months when prevention services are offered. It’s as simple as that – the youth stays IV-E eligible.
As mentioned before, California has been providing prevention services since 2007 and is very sophisticated in it’s ability to maintain Title IV-E eligibility (perhaps one of the most efficient states in the country).
It’s important to understand that 54% of young people placed in foster care exit within 12 months of entering care. Moreover, thirty-one percent (31%) of children exit foster care within THREE MONTHS. Most of these young people (65%) return home to their parents.
This raises the question: “If you can return a child to a parent in 3 months or less, was it really necessary to remove the child in the first place? Is it possible to have provided services to the family without putting the child through the trauma of being removed?”
The prevention component of the Family First Act is intended to prevent that 54% of kids from enduring the trauma of entering foster care and support them at home or with relatives (when it is safe to do so).
Objection #3: The loss of a vital transitional housing program in our state’s system that some older youth actually prefer to either group homes or traditional family homes
As of April 2016, there are only 54 youth ages 16-17 living in this transitional housing program that would be impacted by Family First. Family First does not close down housing programs – states can still fund the programs on their own. Due to the highly technical nature of this program, Congress was not able to account for this population.
Compare the loss of federal funding to benefit 54 youth to the thousands of transition age youth and alumni that will benefit from other provisions in Family First, including:
- Eligibility for Education and Training Vouchers (Chafee Grant) until age 26 (currently, the age limit is 23).
- ETV can be used in consecutive or non-consecutive years (so students could take a break to work or establish housing, for example). Students could also start their higher education at age 21 and still have time to complete a degree.
- States could offer Chafee Independent Living Program services to serve youth starting at age 14 (currently, federal funding is available for youth age 16 and older)
- States could also extend the Chafee Independent Living Programs to serve youth up to age 23 (currently, the cut off is age 21).
- Family First would expand services for pregnant and parenting youth. Housing programs for these youth would be funded under Family First. Pregnant and parenting youth would also be categorically eligible for prevention services.
- Improved oversight of congregate care facilities and group homes, to prevent inappropriate diagnosis (and subsequently, over-medication and misuse of psychotropic medication).
If Family First does not pass, we lose out on all of the ground-breaking provisions for older youth and young alumni listed above, with no guarantee that they will be included in a future bill.
Other important facts about the Family First Act:
- Federal funding only pays for a portion of programs. Federal funding only provides about half of child welfare funding in California. Historically, California has been very smart about how to fund its programs, and has often funded programs without ANY federal funding. Because of the way IV-E was originally created, states are losing the amount of federal funding they receive each year – Family First is intended to fix that).
- There is a September 30 deadline to pass the Family First Act. If Family First does not pass by September 30, the bill is essentially dead. This is due to the fact that the bill is riding on several programs that are set to go into effect on Oct. 1. Some of these programs provide the offset – or the money needed to pay for the bill (items such as preventative services). After Sept 30, we would need to identify new offsets – which would put us back to the beginning. Advocates, including FosterClub, fear that if we miss this window, it may be several years until we see new federal legislation because federal policymakers will just go ahead and reauthorize the expiring programs, without being packaged up in a bill like Family First (meaning we lose other great items included in Family First).
- Making changes – or amendments – to the Family First Act will kill the bill. The Family First bill has already passed the House of Representatives. If it were to be amended, it would need to go back to the House, the house has made clear they will not accept any amendments that cost money. There is not time to do this prior to the September deadline.
Thank you for taking the time to review FosterClub’s responses. We hope you found it helpful.
If you are in support of the Family First Act, we urge you to call Senator Boxer’s office BEFORE SEPT. 30 and urge her to LIFT THE HOLD. Senator Boxer’s office #: 202-224-3553. Here’s an example of what you can say:
- As your constituent, I am calling to urge Senator Boxer to LIFT HER HOLD on the Family First Prevention Services Act (S. 3065/H.R. 5456) and ensure the Senate passes it as written without delay.
- This bill would improve the lives of vulnerable children and families in California. It would allow child welfare dollars to be used for prevention services, improve congregate care and how often it's used, and improve services for older youth.
- Acting now is critical - $400 million in funding to pay for this essential bill becomes unavailable on October 1.
- Thank you.