Posts About Child Welfare and Family Supports

On Wednesday, August 5th, Senator Wyden introduced the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act of 2015.  The purpose of the Act is to allow states the flexibility to use federal Title IV-E funds to provide services to children and families with the intent of preventing the need for foster care and/or limiting the time children spend in out-of-home care.  The bill will allow agencies to use Title IV-E dollars to implement and provide time-limited community-based services for families to prevent the placement of children in out-of-home care, support reunification efforts, and expand supports to kinship caregivers. 

The philosophy behind this bill is that children experience better outcomes when they are raised in families, particularly their own family, whenever safe for the child and that placement in out-of-home care should be temporary.  Given the importance of stability and the trauma that results from separation from one’s parent, it is important to incentivize the use of kinship care when children cannot remain safely with their parents.  Currently Title IV-E provides funding for states and tribes to support children and families after children have been placed in foster care. However, there are very limited resources available for funding services that may prevent the need for foster care or reduce the time children spend in out-of-home care despite growing knowledge and research that highlights the importance of family and community connections, keep families together whenever possible and expediting reunification when possible.

 The services that this bill will allow for Title IV-E to cover will have to be used and justified as services that support family preservation, family reunification or kinship care.  Additionally, states will be required to submit a five-year plan outlining how they plan to use and monitor the time-limited family service money. The services that will be provided, should this act pass, could include individual, group and family counseling, supports to address domestic abuse, substance abuse, and concrete and immediate needs like child care and assistance with transportation, housing, and utility expenses and other resources directly related to family preservation and reunification as well as to ensure supportive kinship placements. Children and families would be eligible to receive these services for 12 months if the child is at imminent risk of entering or re-entering foster care if but for the services provided. The bill also requires that the Title IV-E dollars be spent on evidence-based, evidence-informed and promising programs and services, which allows for cultural adaptations and modifications.

  Senator Wyden, in his opening statement on the finance hearing on preserving families and reducing the need for foster care, commented that this bill “is in not in any way a condemnation of foster care” but instead, is about giving some of our most vulnerable citizens the supports that they need to thrive within their own families.  The Family Stability and Kinship Care Act has the potential to support states and tribes in significantly reducing the need for congregate and foster care by supporting families through a multi-generational approach and front-end services.  For these reasons, The Family Stability and Kinship Care Act of 2015 has received bi-partisan support from its conception and, if passed, could have far reaching impacts on children and families.

Posted In: Child Welfare and Family Supports

The Senate Committee on Finance hearing held on August 4th, entitled A Way Back Home: Preserving Families and Reducing the Need for Foster Care, focused on strategies to decrease reliance on group home placements in foster care systems across the nation. Despite consensus among multiple stakeholders that children are best served in a family setting, children in foster care spent an average of 8 months in congregate care and comprised 14% of the foster care population in 2014.

To address the lack of federal policy regarding state overreliance on congregate care, Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) opened the hearing noting that the current system often results in expensive, inappropriate, and detrimental experiences for those it touches. While reflecting on similar testimony heard in May, he likened the continual funding and overreliance on group home placement in foster care to “using taxpayer dollars to buy cigarettes” for foster youth. Chairman Hatch further highlighted the need to direct federal funds toward preventative front- and back-end services to allow as many children as possible to safely remain at home and return home as quickly and safely as possible.

Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) emphasized the difficult choices child welfare workers often have to make, commenting that sometimes the supports needed to keep a family safely together are not always available. Using Oregon’s Differential Response strategy as a model of successful reform, he stressed the importance of moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach by adding an alternate response track: a primary strategy in addressing racial and socioeconomic disparities in child welfare. Referencing the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act, which he will introduce this week, Ranking Member Wyden stressed the importance of national child welfare reform to adopt an approach similar to Oregon’s, allowing as many families as possible to stay together.

Subsequently, the committee heard from five witnesses on issues pertaining to the use of group homes in foster care and the lack of preventative supports and services. Sandra Killett, Parent Advocate and Executive Director of Child Welfare Organizing Project, drew upon her personal experience as a parent affected by the lack of appropriate front-end supports in New York’s child welfare system. While waitlisted for home-based therapeutic intervention per her own independent requests, Ms. Killett was investigated for child abuse and her eldest son was placed in foster care. This resulted in further negligence of her son’s mental health needs, as he received no therapeutic intervention while in care. She stressed the importance of home-based therapy, and noted it would have helped her family avoid the trauma of separation. Accordingly, Ms. Killett offered three recommendations addressing the lack of care she experienced, including the realigning of funds to support prevention and early intervention services, utilizing a non-punitive approach to keep children at home, and partnering with parents to work together at all stages of involvement with the child welfare and court systems.

Ms. Rosalina Burton, a former foster youth from California and mental health worker at a residential facility for foster youth, also spoke from personal experience. Highlighting the racial disparities seen in behavioral healthcare – for example, people of color are more likely to experience life stressors linked to mental health disorders but are less likely to receive high quality, culturally competent care – Ms. Burton described how these trends can affect individuals and families. Spending twelve years in and out of foster placements and ultimately aging out of congregate care, she spoke about the importance of addressing mental health and substance abuse issues across multiple generations. Ms. Burton promoted intensive individual and family therapy as well as financial assistance as beneficial interventions, speculating that they might have been pivotal in successfully reunifying her and her family. She further shared that her mother spent time in foster care as well and would have likely benefitted from working through her own childhood trauma with such preventative and therapeutic supports, had they been available.

Executive Director for Generations United, Ms. Donna Butts, similarly focused on the need to increase supports for those not “officially” in care. Specifically, she stressed four recommendations in the areas of kinship care and prevention. These included streamlining the notification given to relatives when children are removed from parents’ care, decreasing barriers in foster care licensure processes for kinship caregivers, increasing preventative intervention efforts and available resources, and focusing on trauma-informed care or therapeutic supports for kinship families. Given that family, friends and neighbors provide the most prevalent form of substitute care for children from birth to school-age, decreasing barriers to their participation in child welfare protocols and case planning is a natural adjustment in increasing family engagement and kinship placements.

Mr. Chuck Nyby, Differential Response Operations and Policy Analyst for the Child Welfare Program in Oregon’s Department of Human Services, and Ms. Ann Silverberg Williamson, Executive Director of Utah’s Department of Human Services, both spoke about the targeted methods their agencies have employed to achieve positive outcomes in their states. The current approaches to child welfare in Oregon and Utah both embrace flexibility and a focus on preventative, family-centered intervention. Mr. Nyby elaborated on Oregon’s Differential Response system, which places high importance on keeping children in the least-restrictive setting and has enhanced the quantity and quality of services offered through matching funds from Title IV-E waiver savings. Likewise, Ms. Williamson offered several strengths to take from Utah’s approach to child welfare, including investing Title IV-E waiver dollars into their HomeWorks program. Ms. Williamson provided several outcomes highlighting the rationale behind these interventions, noting that Utah has one of the lowest rates of entry into foster care and one of the highest rates of adoption.

Following their testimony, witnesses responded to questions ranging from suspected impact on human sex trafficking – in which nearly 60% of victims are foster youths – to broad inquiries into best practices for nationwide implementation. Witnesses reaffirmed the importance of using evidence-based assessments to evaluate risk in family-centered ways, encouraging family engagement, promoting family partnerships, and increasing supports for front-line intervention.   

In addition to Ranking Member Wyden’s upcoming Family Stability and Kinship Care Act, two other bills – the Family Based Foster Care Services Act and the upcoming All Kids Matter Act – highlight a general focus of child welfare reform among committee members. With budgetary debates on the horizon, the emphasis on family-based and preventative services in child welfare is a welcome and overdue congressional priority. The flexible, proactive, and family-focused recommendations discussed at the hearing would allow states to implement more individualized and culturally appropriate supports. Given the current racial disproportionality seen more generally in preventative care, removing these barriers within child welfare is a necessary step in achieving greater equity. 

Posted In: Child Welfare and Family Supports

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA is an equal opportunity law that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as others – namely, the ability to find employment, purchase goods and services, and participate in government programs. There have been steady accomplishments in disability rights over the past 25 years, with increased access to employment and infrastructure.

Yet, over 40 million Americans with disabilities continue to face disparities in socioeconomic status, education levels, access to healthcare, and overall well-being. Advocacy for veterans, youth in public schools or on playgrounds, senior citizens, and rural residents with disabilities are just a few of the communities that have organized around specific concerns targeting the needs of those with disabilities, leading to slow but continual progress toward widespread ADA compliance.

Such focused efforts are becoming increasingly necessary for youth with disabilities in child welfare, who often experience compounding factors that can interact to create worse outcomes. Although many foster youth have disabilities, multiple moves, school changes, and inconsistent adult advocacy for comprehensive and appropriate services means their specific needs are often overlooked.

Children with disabilities are over-represented in child welfare: it is estimated that 4% of children in the US have either a mental or physical disability, compared to 11% of those who enter the child welfare system. In addition to experiencing maltreatment at a rate between 1.68 and 3.44 times that of their peers, children with disabilities are at least 1.5 times more likely to be seriously harmed by the abuse or neglect experienced, leading to greater risk of involvement in child welfare. Although children with disabilities are not identified in crime statistic systems – making national trends difficult to measure – several studies have found that behavioral disorders and speech/language disorders each increase risk for physical abuse and neglect, respectively. This lack of consistent data represents a major barrier to designing, implementing, and evaluating prevention programs and services for this population.

Nevertheless, the data gathered from the National Youth in Transition Database in 2010 has provided some insight about foster youth receiving independent living services: among adolescents in foster care, about 40% have disabilities, and children with disabilities have worse outcomes than other foster youth. Older youth with disabilities are more likely to experience longer lengths of stay in out-of-home placements and higher rates of placement instability, and their transition plans are less likely to include goals for careers, independent living, or post-secondary education. A lack of child welfare involvement in special education planning, inconsistent advocate presence, and a lack of educational individualization based on the needs of foster youth in general may contribute, but information remains limited.

These trends become even more concerning when considering the disparities already experienced by youth of color and LGBTQ youth within child welfare, including overlapping systemic barriers, increased rates of placement in congregate care settings, and discrimination. For youth with disabilities who also identify as LGBTQ, a member of a racial or ethnic minority, or both, the effect is likely a combined “double burden.” This intersectional impact remains understudied, however, perpetuating the lack of awareness and lack of targeted programs and policies to better meet the needs of youth in state care.

As discussions of equity continue to shed light on the human experiences of those in often oppressed communities, the unique experiences of youth with disabilities in child welfare offer a vital, and often overlooked, perspective. Consciously including the needs and obstacles faced by foster youth with disabilities is a necessary addition to the conversation as we now move into the ADA’s 26th year.

Posted In: Child Welfare and Family Supports

Introduced in both houses of Congress on May 19, 2015, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (S.1382 and H.R.2449) would prohibit discrimination in federally-funded adoption or foster care placements based on the sexual orientation or gender identity of youth and prospective parents. Increasing the pool of potential foster or adoptive parents while encouraging equitable practices in the field, proponents hope the bill will better meet the needs of nearly 400,000 children in foster care across the US.

It is estimated that LGBTQ youth account for between 4% and 10% of the national foster youth population, and as many as 70% of the LGBTQ youth in group homes reported that they have suffered violence based on their LGBT status. Furthermore, 100% of the LGBTQ youth in foster group homes reported verbal harassment based on their sexual orientations or gender identities, and 78% were removed or ran away from their placement as a result. Between 25% and 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ community members, and over half of homeless youth have spent some time in foster care.

Twenty states currently have explicit laws protecting the rights of youth in foster care from discrimination based on sexual orientation, thirteen of which also protect against discrimination based on gender identity. However, religious or moral exemption laws have been proposed in several states this year, which would allow placements of youth to be guided by the religious beliefs of agencies and staff. In combination with the lack of nationally-explicit anti-discriminatory laws, these policies are limiting placement options for youth in care.

Bills like The Every Child Deserves a Family Act offer a supportive message to youth within the child welfare system on a national scale and serve as an important first step in the wide-ranging goal of achieving “normalcy” for LGBTQ youth in foster care. In California, for example, LGBTQ youth in foster care experience 18% more placements and are more likely to live in a group home setting than non-LGBTQ youth in foster care. By impacting the federal funding requirements for agencies across the nation, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act could help ensure these children – and those seeking to adopt or foster them – are given the same opportunities as their non-LGBTQ peers. 

Posted In: Child Welfare and Family Supports

The Center for the Study of Social Policy’s newest report, Strategies to Reduce Racially Disparate Outcomes in Child Welfare, documents the efforts underway in 12 states and localities to tackle the enduring problem of African American, Native American and Latino families faring worse than others being served by the child welfare systems.

The publication, produced by CSSP as part of the work of the Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare, updates a similar “national scan” produced nearly a decade ago covering the promising practices to address racial disproportionality in child welfare. In many states and localities across the country, there are proportionately more children of color who are referred to child- and family-serving institutions; they have longer stays in foster care, and are more likely to be placed in congregate care placements. Moreover, youth of color typically face even more challenges as they age out of child welfare systems.

All of this work is done within the context of federal, state and local efforts to improve outcomes for all children and families involved with child welfare systems. However, as attention to the disparate outcomes achieved for African American, Native American and in some places Latino children and youth has grown, state and county systems have turned to innovative uses of legislative mandates and data analysis to spark more work to more fully understand and eliminate disparities, drive decision-making and system improvements and to pinpoint exactly where the problems are occurring.

In addition, states are deepening their training, workforce development and capacity-building activities so that frontline workers possess a greater understanding of these issues. States are also taking on new partners—from schools to judges to pastors—to hasten the pace of eliminating disparities. Engagement with tribal governments has improved as have community-engagement efforts to bridge gaps in understanding between families and child- and family-serving systems.

The publication highlights efforts underway in Connecticut; Idaho; Illinois; Iowa; Kentucky; Michigan; Minnesota state and Ramsey County in Minnesota; New York; Oregon; Allegheny County, Pennsylvania; Texas; and Utah.

Read the report here: Strategies to Reduce Racially Disparate Outcomes in Child Welfare by Oronde Miller and Amelia Esenstad

Posted In: Child Welfare and Family Supports

Urban Institute recently publish a unique look into survival sex, a strategy used by many young people in order to survive while living on the streets of New York City. Meredith Dank, author and Senior Research Associate at the Urban Institute, conducted a three-year study of LGBTQ youth in partnership with New York City-based organization Streetwise and Safe (SAS) using interviews with 283 youth who engaged in survival sex, defined as receiving payment in the form of cash or other in-kind payment in exchange for sex and trades, in New York City.

Recently, the Center for the Study of Social Policy hosted a webinar, Surviving the Streets of New York: Experiences of LGBTQ Youth, YMSM, and YWSW Engaged in Survival Sex, as a platform for Dank to share her findings with the field. The webinar highlighted interviews with youth who shared personal stories of engaging in survival sex. These youth stories share common themes of social and familial discrimination and rejection, familial dysfunction and poverty, physical abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation and emotional and mental trauma.

Dank’s research found that youth involved in survival sex faced significant challenges in stable housing and hunger and as a result, were introduced to - and became involved in - survival sex through friends and peers. In exchange for engaging in sexual activities, 88 percent of youth received money, 29 percent received shelter, and 19 percent received food. These findings highlight a gap in services and supports, including housing, mental health, and employment for LGBTQ youth who are pushed out of their homes due to rejection, suffered other means of trauma, and find themselves living on the streets.

In order to support this community of youth, the report highlights recommendations to ensure and support the safety of homeless LGBTQ youth:

  1. Develop accessible street-based and comprehensive drop-in services and peer-led outreach
  2. Improve safe and supportive short-term shelter, long-term affordable housing, and family-based placement options subject to periodic review
  3. Create a safe and supportive housing and placement protocols specific to transgender and gender non-conforming individuals
  4. Broaden access to and improve gender-affirming health care
  5. Adopt nondiscrimination, confidentiality, and complaint procedures in shelters, programs, and out-of-home placements
  6. Develop living-wage employment opportunities
  7. Improve food security among LGBTQ youth
  8. Design policy training curricula to improve relationships with LGBTQ youth and decrease profiling, harassment, and abuse

To view an archived version of the webinar, click here.

For more information on how to support LGBTQ youth, please visit CSSP’s getREAL section on our website. 

Posted In: Child Welfare and Family Supports

The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced $386 million in grant awards to states, territories and nonprofit organizations to support the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. These funds will allow states to continue expanding voluntary, evidence-based home visiting services to women during pregnancy and to parents with young children.

Since 2010, the Home Visiting Program has supported more than 1.4 million visits in over 700 communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five territories. The program targets communities with high teen birth rates, low birth weights, high infant mortality rates and high rates of poverty. The program is especially beneficial for families facing a range of economic and social challenges that have children up to age 5 – nearly 80 percent of families participating in the program have household incomes at or below the 100 percent Federal Poverty Level. 

The Home Visiting Program allows a nurse, social worker or early childhood educator to make home visits beginning during pregnancy and continuing through the first years of the baby’s life. These visits benefit families by promoting healthy child development, increasing school readiness and building parental capacity through positive parenting. In addition, the voluntary program provides families with advice, guidance and help navigating and accessing health, social service and child development professionals.

While the most recent HHS funding award will allow states to expand these services, the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program is currently set to expire on March 31, 2015. An expansion of the program, which is part of the President’s Early Learning Initiative, is included in the current FY16 budget at $500 million in FY16 and $15 billion over the next ten years. In considering the benefits of the Home Visiting Program, continued federal support of the program can allow states to help even more families and their young children.  

For the full press release, please click here.

Posted In: Child Welfare and Family Supports

Youth in foster care face obstacles in participating in enrichment activities that their peers often do not. However, it is important for youth in foster care to have the same opportunities to participate in healthy and appropriate activities, such as sports, extracurricular interests and attending school functions as their friends and classmates who are not in foster care.

CSSP’s newest brief, Promoting Well-Being through the Reasonable and Prudent Parent Standard: A Guide for States Implementing the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980), highlights the important role that states play in supporting the healthy development and well-being of youth in foster care. The brief provides policymakers and child welfare administrators with recommendations and successful state examples for implementing the prudent parenting standard in a way that promotes well-being for all youth in foster care and provides additional guidance for expectant and parenting youth and youth that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ).

To read CSSP’s policy recommendations, click here.

Posted In: Child Welfare and Family Supports

One two-generational approach to upward mobility is connecting child care programs to work support programs for parents. This allows parents to work toward support their family while their children can develop in a supportive environment. Access to high quality child care is critical aspect of this strategy.  

Last March, the Senate passed the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014. In late September, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill under a special rule. The bipartisan bill would allow children to have more sustained access to child care and improve parents’ or guardians’ ability to work and advance in their jobs. The bill includes several provisions to support low-income, working families including:

  • Requiring that every child receiving CCDBG be eligible for 12 months regardless of changes in parent’s income or work status
  • Child care workforce training on best practices to meet the developmental needs of children
  • Preventing the use of child assessment for inappropriate high stakes

Informing parents to better understand quality choices in their community as well as access to developmental screening

  • Grouping funds to streamline overlapping early childhood programs

 Policymakers should consider ways to support working families through two-generational approaches.  Strengthening services and supports the meet the needs of both children and their caregivers is an important step toward improving family well-being. This includes investing in child and family programs and services that reduce risks and strengthen protective factors.

To learn more about ways to support working families read our report on reducing child poverty. To learn more about protective factors that ensure families can thrive – check out our protective factors framework

Posted In: Child Welfare and Family Supports

Using Preventive Legal Advocacy

· Natasya Gandana

Promoting policies and programs to create child and family well-being are central to CSSP's mission. One of our central goals is to help systems and policymakers keep children safely at home and out of the foster care system whenever possible.

Effective preventive efforts can support families in meeting a range of needs to keep children safe and secure with their families. One of these needs is for legal representation.

Families involved with child welfare systems often have multiple legal as well as social service needs.  A new paper from CSSP entitled Case Closed: Addressing Unmet Legal Needs & Stabilizing Families, authored by University of Michigan Law Professor Vivek S. Sankaran and Martha L. Raimon, senior associate at CSSP, highlights multi-disciplinary programs that have demonstrated success at keeping families safe at home and avoiding the need for out-of-home placement.

Preliminary data suggest that these programs not only keep children safe, they also have the potential to save child welfare systems money by reducing the need to rely on costly foster care.

The core elements to the models are similar: families are provided with the assistance of an attorney, social worker and parent advocate to help resolve legal and social work issues which may affect the safety of their children. This collaborative, multi-disciplinary model helps a family navigate a complex process. For example, lawyers may file for a restraining order, file for guardianship, apply for public benefits or help with special education issues.  The social worker works with existing community partners to help the family connect with a network of local service providers. And a parent advocate, who has experienced the child welfare system, provides the parent with crucial information on how to successfully engage with public systems.

This paper is part of CSSP's work to highlight policy strategies that emphasize partnerships and innovative thinking to help children and families be safe, secure and successful.

Posted In: Child Welfare and Family Supports
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