September 01, 2015

New Child Welfare Bill Focuses on Keeping Families Together

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., was joined by seven other members of the committee in introducing a bill to keep families together by allowing the nation’s largest child welfare funding stream to support front-end family services to reduce unnecessary foster care stays.

Currently, most federal child welfare dollars are spent on foster care. The Family Stability and Kinship Care Act would give states the flexibility to use federal funds to pay for preventive services that can stabilize families and keep kids out of foster care and safe at home or with kin. 

“Somewhere in America, a mother has to choose between leaving her kids at home alone to work a nightshift, and losing the wages that allow her to barely scrape by,” Wyden said. “The current child welfare funding system provides two choices: put kids in foster care or do nothing. There must be a better option for families who need just a little bit of extra help and this bill will give the system flexibility to respond to real-life situations of families in need.”

The bill is based on Wyden’s discussion draft from May aimed at opening up Title IV-E of the Social Security Act dollars for evidence-based services to help children return to—or remain safely with—their families or be placed with kin.  

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe in Washington State currently have Title IV-E waivers that have allowed them to test innovative approaches such as investing in front-end child welfare service delivery to help families remain safely together. Wyden’s legislation would allow every state to permanently make these types of investments with federal support. 

The Family Stability and Kinship Care Act would also allow states to provide these support services to extended family members who are called upon to take care of relatives’ children at a moment’s notice. 

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas and Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means subcommittee with jurisdiction over the nation’s foster care system, will introduce a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

“I am pleased to join Senator Wyden’s important initiative. Our current system is failing too many children and dividing too many families. More resources must be directed toward preventing abuse and neglect of children and to providing the support to keep families together,” Doggett said. “With early engagement, the need for foster care can be reduced substantially.”

More than 60 organizations have expressed support for the bill, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators and the Children’s Defense Fund.