Talking about the need for greater access to needed services for families, on both Monday and Tuesday’s plenary sessions Commissioner Rafael Lopez noted the significance of the Family First Prevention Services Act, (HR 5456) (Conference Report 114-628).  Lopez highlighted in his Tuesday luncheon remarks how the current opioid crisis is not new but just different from what we have confronted in the past.  He talked about the common factors of mental health, substance-abuse and domestic violence that play such a roll with so many of the families that make up a part of the foster care caseload and child welfare cases.

The Commissioner said that we are building a base of information that can help us address some of these problems and that the results are coming from the regional partnership grants (RPGs), through waivers and through drug courts which show us what we need to do in many cases. He said prevention is the key in addressing these families that are dealing with substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence or all three.  He highlighted the impact and potential of the Families First Act, legislation that it is awaiting action in the Senate.

While the CWLA conference was taking place, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) reached out through a conference call to supporters of the legislation encouraging them to promote the bill while Congress was out of session and members are back in their districts.  The legislation has been endorsed by CWLA with a CWLA description here.

The goal is to have a vote on the legislation (if holds aren’t released preventing a voice vote).  As Widen had said before the end of the July session, “The weight of the status quo is severe, and it falls heaviest on the thousands of foster kids living in quiet struggle.  If this bill were to come before the Senate in an up-or-down vote, I believe it would sail through on a bipartisan basis. It’s the right policy for kids, and it’s the right policy for taxpayers, whose investments in foster care today aren’t helping children and families the way they should.”

CWLA members are urged to call their senators at their senate office in Washington to express support through the Capitol switch board at 202-224-3121.  You can ask for your senator’s office.  Alternately members can contact their local offices or meet with senators while they are in their districts for much of the rest of this month.

CWLA sees the biggest benefit of the legislation is the potential expansion and access to Title IV-E entitlement funding for approved mental health, substance use and in-home services not tied to the outdated link to the 1996 AFDC program.  Instead of an income-based eligibility there would be an eligibility based on whether or not the child is at-risk of a foster care placement and considered a “candidate for foster care.”

For these candidates, the child, the parent, guardian or adoptive family would be eligible for services for up to 12 months in a spell.  Services would also be available to a foster youth who is pregnant or parenting.  Eligible services would be limited to promising, supported and well-supported programs with the bulk of funding directed toward well-supported-HHS-approved services.  There would not be a limit on the number of 12 month spells in a child or family’s lifetime. These funds could also flow to post-permanence placements including children who are reunified and adoptive families who latter are in need of counseling and other interventions.

These new provisions as well as the restrictions regarding institutional care would start in FY 2020 which starts on October 1, 2019.  Because programs would have to meet promising, supported and well-supported programs, by October 1, 2018 HHS would issue guidance on the practices criteria required for services or programs to satisfy the law’s requirements.  HHS would also provide a pre-approved list of services and programs that meet the requirements.

Title IV-B Programs Reauthorization

The legislation reauthorizes the two Title IV-B programs which are set to expire by October 1. Child Welfare Services (CWS) is annually appropriated and is now down to $269 million a year.  Promoting Safe and stable families (PSSF), which includes the CIP is set at $345 million in mandatory funds and $69 million in appropriated funds.  The bill extends the two programs and makes some age changes to the Chaffee Independent Living Program.  Changes include:

  • Five-year extension of the adoption-kinship incentive fund (part of IV-E) continue the same formula for awards set in 2014
  • Five-year extension of the Regional Partnership Grants of $20 million with adjustments including mandated participation by state substance abuse agencies and new funding allocations
  • Five-year continuation of the $20 million caseworker visit-workforce funds
  • Increased eligibility for the Chaffee Independent Living program to age 23 (IV-E),
  • Increased eligibility for Chaffee student voucher eligibility to age 26 (IV-E)
  • Elimination of the 15-month time-limit on the use of PSSF funds for reunification services
  • A one-time $5 million set aside drawn from appropriated funds for a grant to help spread the use of the NEICE Interstate Compact expansion initiative with states required to update their ICPC system by 2026
  • Requirements to include evidence of being in foster care as part of the document package for youth that age out (to assist young people eligible for Medicaid to age 26 if they were in foster care)
  • Five-year continuation of the court funding program (CIP)
  • A new $8 million to create competitive grants that will address foster parent recruitment