Leadership Lens

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Editor's note: This is a special edition of Leadership Lens, written by CWLA's public policy staff. Given the significance of finance reform to our ability to improve outcomes for children and families, Christine James-Brown relinquished her regular column this month so that Voice readers could learn more about this important topic.

If you spend enough time listening to child welfare advocates, you'll undoubtedly hear the term finance reform thrown around quite a bit. As CWLA employees, we use the term frequently in conversations with our members, advocates, and policymakers. It's a term that has been used for decades, however, and it can connote many different things to different people.

Finance reform typically refers to the rigidity of the current child welfare financing structure, its failure to properly incentivize services and placements most likely to improve outcomes for children and families, and the need to restructure how the system is financed. Reform would increase resources to provide proven, innovative services to more children and families in a way that improves the safety, permanence, and well-being of every child. That said, as details are closely examined, the specifics and scale of different interpretations of finance reform can be quite divergent. To one, finance reform could mean replacing the current system with state block grants. To another, it might mean simply reinstating Title IV-E waiver authority. Yet others might envision expanding what IV-E covers or allowing states to reinvest savings accrued from reduced out-of-home placements into other services.

The intent of this column is to clarify what CWLA means by finance reform, so our members and supporters can better understand our vision.* Fin- ance reform should address the fact that less than half of the children in foster care in America are currently supported by IV-E. Even worse, the penetration rate, as it is known, will continue to decrease over time, since eligibility is currently linked--without adjusting for inflation--to outdated income standards tied to the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, which expired 15 years ago. All children removed from their homes, regardless of the income levels of their parents or caregivers, should be protected by IV-E. De-linking IV-E eligibility from AFDC and extending coverage to all children is a crucial component of finance reform.

CWLA envisions finance reform that provides more resources for services currently not eligible under IV-E, including prevention, specialized treatment, and postpermanency. There are twice the number of children under the supervision of the child welfare system being served in their homes as there are children who have been removed from their homes. But the current financing structure does not provide enough funding for services targeted to children still in their homes who are at risk of eventually being removed. More effective targeting of these resources could reduce the need for out-of-home care. This disparity can be addressed either by opening up IV-E to cover this wider range of evidence-based interventions or by allowing states that reduce out-of-home placements to reinvest those savings into Title IV-B programs. For cost reasons, funding would most likely need to be restricted in both cases to improving the outcomes for families who have already come to the attention of the system via an abuse or neglect report. That said, CWLA continues to support other social service programs that target families at risk of entering the system.

Increased accountability must also be a component of finance reform, especially if states are granted greater discretion in how to use resources. Enhanced reporting must be required so that states are held accountable for using resources on results-based services and are making decisions that will improve outcomes.

Further investments must be made in the child welfare workforce by expanding the availability, uses of, and access to IV-E training funds. Child welfare staff should be more thoroughly trained, have their caseloads reduced, and be provided greater incentives for job retention. Quality should be more effectively monitored and practice should be improved to professionalize the workforce to improve service and outcomes.

In defining CWLA's position on finance reform, it's equally important to explain what we do not include in that definition. CWLA opposes elimination of the guaranteed entitlement status of the IV-E program, efforts to separate or dilute the dedicated accounts under IV-E for training and administration, and restructuring of IV-E reimbursement rates that limits caseworkers' ability to serve children and families and does not fully support the entire continuum of services.

Momentum has been building since enactment of the Fostering Connections Act toward addressing finance reform. We are actively engaged in advocating for passage of this long-overdue reform, and we hope you will join us.

* Members can sign in at www.cwla.org/membersonly for more detailed information in CWLA's position paper on finance reform in the 112th Congress. Click on the Government Affairs page.

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