Strengthening National Policy for Children, Youth and Families

8/11/2015

It’s time to align federal investments in child welfare with the greater goal of ensuring success for all children and families.

Ask almost anyone working on child welfare issues and they would affirm the fact that we, as a country, are in dire need of updating our child welfare system. While we’ve made some incremental steps toward improvements over the last few decades, there’s still so much more to do to really see the outcomes we desire.

One of the biggest obstacles we face is how our child welfare system is financed at the federal level. Federal child welfare expenditures focus on dedicating the highest proportion of funding to helping families after a child has been removed from their home and placed into foster care. So what happens before things reach a point of crisis? In most places – unless utilizing alternative funding approaches such as waivers – our hands are tied. The current federal financing model prohibits states from using certain funds to invest in more prevention and early intervention services that might help more families avoid the crisis of being separated altogether.

This is not to say that  ALL families who come to the attention of the child welfare system must stay together – there is no doubt that certain situations may warrant removing children from unsafe and unstable environments – but the best interests of children should always come first in our decision making. Whether they live with their own families, in quality foster care, or for short periods of time in a residential setting when higher levels of intervention are needed, children should always live in the most family-like way possible with the paramount goal of successful family-based permanency for each child. Ensuring better outcomes for our children should be one of our nation’s top priorities. The way our current federal policy and financing are aligned don’t always meet those goals.

As Keeping Kids in Families launches this month, advocates nationwide, many who work on the frontlines of the child welfare system, are raising a collective voice to tackle this very issue. We are working to promote a shared commitment to improving the lives of children and families by pushing for the immediate need to strengthen our system through policy action –  urging policymakers to support and advance policy solutions that seek to keep families whole, prevent child abuse and neglect, and offer high quality early interventions and treatments, whenever possible.

An Even Greater Sense of Urgency

Driven by outdated national policies that focus on investing resources after children have been removed from their families, there’s no question we’ve been operating under a model that does not allow us to meet the best needs of our children. We’ve bandaged this issue for far too long and our children cannot wait any longer. Now is the time to adopt a modern, comprehensive approach that helps us do a better job of helping families, much earlier.

And what better timing than now! As our campaign gets underway this month, we’re seeing important activity in congress. Just last week, the Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing, A Way Back Home: Preserving Families and Reducing the Need for Foster Care, which focused on the need for strategies that help to keep families together and reduce the use of foster care group homes. The hearing highlighted such alternatives as allowing states to use their federal foster care funds for the purpose of providing services and interventions that can result in allowing children to stay safely at home.

We also saw important legislative activity when Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced The Family Stability and Kinship Care Act of 2015 and Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) released the All Kids Matter Act. Both are focused on adopting new ideas for improving child welfare policy and investments. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) is expected to introduce companion legislation to Senator Wyden’s bill when the House returns to session next month. And, we’re anticipating bipartisan legislation from the Senate Finance Committee in September.

So there is no doubt that the time has come for us to align our investment in child welfare with our greater goal of ensuring success for all children and families. And, with your help, Keeping Kids in Families will be elevating this issue nationwide. We believe members of congress have an important role to play by sponsoring, supporting and/ helping to advance legislative proposals that keep the needs of children and families at the heart of decision-making. With Congress on summer recess and back home for the next few weeks, we will be ramping up our campaign to call members’ attention to the issue to ensure they are educated and motivated to take action in support of children and families when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day. We have a crucial opportunity to ensure that our message is heard across congressional districts and states.

Next Steps

For those who have not already joined us, take a moment now to make your commitment to advocating on behalf of children a families.

If you have already joined the campaign, visit our Take Action page to learn more about how you can get involved.

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