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October 01, 2016

ABA supports prompt enactment of Family First Preventive Services Act

The ABA reiterated its support last month for the Family First Preventive Services Act and urged Congress to give final approval to the legislation, which takes crucial steps toward reforming the federal child welfare financing structure to support keeping children safely with their families.

H.R. 5456, which passed the House in June, and S. 3065, companion legislation ready for floor action in the Senate, would allow use of federal child welfare funds under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act for preventive services. These funds, which are currently available only after a child enters foster care, would provide opportunities for children to remain in their homes or with kin caregivers while receiving needed support and services.

The bills also would reauthorize the Court Improvement Program (CIP), which was established 20 years ago to provide funds to state courts in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico for various activities, including: developing mediation programs, establishing joint agency-court training, automating docketing and case tracking, linking agency-court data systems, formalizing relationships with child welfare agencies, and improvement of representation for children and families. Authorization for the CIP program, which has been authorized and funded at $30 million, expired Sept. 30.

The ABA has consistently advocated for policies that address key services and support for families involved in the child welfare system.

“The bipartisan legislation will improve the lives of many children,” ABA President Linda A. Klein said in a statement issued Sept. 29 as she urged the Senate to pass S. 3065. “It will end fiscal incentives to place children in foster care and instead provide services that can keep children and families safely together.” She added that the “urgency to keep the Court Improvement Program fully funded makes passing this bill more imperative.”

Other provisions in the bill supported by the ABA would:

  • reauthorize the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Program and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act (PSSF) under Title IV-B of the Social Security Act, which support programs that help stabilize families by providing immediate preventive services while children remain at home and by funding reunification services so that children can be safely returned home in a timely manner. In addition, the legislation would eliminate a 15-month time limit on providing reunification services under PSSF so that federally supported reunification efforts can continue in appropriate circumstances.
  •  identify model licensing standards for relative foster family homes;
  • provide a 50 percent federal match for evidence-based Kinship Navigator programs that provide critical services and information to support kinship care providers; and
  • expand access to the John E. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program to ensure that youth in foster care have access to quality education and additional resources to successfully transition to adulthood. 

Although the House passed H.R. 5456 by voice vote, action on the Senate bill has been blocked by several senators who maintain that the legislation’s new standards and requirements could have a negative impact on some states, particularly California, that already have made substantial improvements in their foster care systems without additional federal legislation. They recommend that the bill be amended prior to final passage.

Proponents hope to reach an agreement with those who have placed holds on the Senate bill so that the legislation may move during the upcoming lame duck session.

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