Last week the Brookings Institution hosted a convening of the CHAMPS campaign to discuss strategies to increase the number of foster families across the country. CHAMPS is a project funded by several foundations led by Annie E Casey. The effort is intended as a national campaign to increase the number of foster parents through state and local efforts.
The two day event featured presentations by a range of participants including current foster parents, youth in foster care, and several state, local and national organizations receiving funding under the project. Other featured speakers included Jerry Miller, the Associate Commissioner, Children’s Bureau, Capitol Hill staff and several state and local officials.
Commissioner Milner said we don’t have a foster care supply problem but a demand problem and that we need to refocus child welfare to a focus on primary prevention. Since he was appointed to his position, Mr. Milner has emphasized the need to address primary prevention at the community level with a goal of preventing child abuse before it occurs. Many advocates over the years have framed prevention as prevention of foster care placements, instead Commissioner Milner argues for greater community-based efforts that can build resources and support for families before the first call to child protection is ever made.
He also echoed one of the themes that emerged over the two days and that is the need to focus foster families and foster care as an important support and tool to help families with children in foster care. Fifty one percent of the children that exit foster care each year exit to reunification with their families.
The second day of the convening featured a discussion by congressional staff from the two key committees: the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. Staff discussed what the next steps should be after last year’s passage of the Family First Act. The discussion was more a search for strategies that could assist in making improvements to the child welfare system.
That same discussion included David Kelly from the Children’s Bureau and a key advisor to Jerry Miller. Mr. Kelly re-emphasized some of the Commissioner’s remarks and he highlighted a recent policy change made by the Children’s Bureau regarding the cost of legal representation for children and parents covered by Title IV-E. States can now use the administrative funding stream with its 50/50 match in state funds to help offset the cost of legal representation for children and families eligible for coverage under the current IV-E foster care provisions.
The CHAMPS campaign focuses on five key drivers of better outcomes: child centered, data driven and informed by continuous quality improvement, leadership within and across agencies, collaboration and transparency, and sustainability. For further information and tool kits to implement the strategy readers can go to CHAMPS.