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