U.S. Congress May Have Done Some­thing Right for Kids

Trillions - - Content -

When the U.S. Congress passed its lat­est bill to keep gov­ern­ment funded for the time be­ing and pre­vent another shut­down, it also did some­thing rather amaz­ing: It passed one of the most im­por­tant over­hauls of the U.S. foster care sys­tem in decades.

The Fam­ily First Pre­ven­tion Ser­vices Act rad­i­cally changes both the fund­ing ap­proach and even the con­cept of what to do with chil­dren at risk.

It be­gins by as­sum­ing that the real goal with at-risk chil­dren is not to find a foster or group home to stuff them in. In­stead, it has the pri­mary aim of find­ing a way to keep those chil­dren from ever hav­ing to en­ter the foster care sys­tem. It does so by fo­cus­ing in­stead on men­tal health, fam­ily coun­sel­ing, parental skills train­ing and ways to deal with sub­stance abuse – all fo­cused on the child and the fam­ily they al­ready re­side with.

This is a rad­i­cal shift in phi­los­o­phy for the gov­ern­ment. In the past, case­work­ers who dealt with chil­dren in trou­ble would in­ter­view the fam­ily, learn that ev­ery­one in­volved was over­loaded both per­son­ally and fi­nan­cially and pos­si­bly ob­serve signs of sub­stance abuse in mul­ti­ple mem­bers of the fam­ily. Those case­work­ers would then at­tempt to treat the case by hand­ing out brochures on pro­grams that might (or might not) help them.

The next step was to re­move the chil­dren from their home and place them in foster care, of­ten in a group home. Be­sides ig­nor­ing the need for close emo­tional and other sup­port for the chil­dren, this ac­tion also re­sulted in sig­nif­i­cant sums of money be­ing given to group-home man­agers who then earned thou­sands of dol­lars a month by hous­ing the kids in their for-profit en­ter­prises. The kids, mean­while, were more of an ac­count­ing-line item than peo­ple who de­serve love, re­spect, car­ing and sup­port.

The money side of the equa­tion of past pro­grams tells the story well. As Wil­liam Bell, pres­i­dent of Casey Fam­ily Pro­grams, tes­ti­fied at a Se­nate HELP Com­mit­tee hear­ing on Fe­bru­ary 8, with the cur­rent sys­tem, for ev­ery $7 avail­able to be spent on foster care, only $1 is spent on pre­vent­ing chil­dren from ever en­ter­ing foster care.

For fund­ing, the new act changes the So­cial Se­cu­rity Act to al­low some of those funds to be used for fam­i­lies who are at risk of end­ing up stuck in the foster care

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