Last week, the National Foster Care Youth & Alumni Policy Council hosted a webinar to highlight the policy recommendations outlined in their new document, A Historic Opportunity to Reform the Child Welfare System: Youth & Alumni Priorities on Preventing Unnecessary Removal of Children from Families. The webinar featured members from the Policy Council Justin Abbasi and Brittany Mihalec-Adkins, who discussed ways to improve prevention supports and services to reduce the unnecessary removal of children from their families, and Angel Petite from FosterClub moderated the session.
The Policy Council 2019 recommendations are informed by 2017 Preventing Unnecessary Removal of Children from their Families guidance before Congress passed the historic child welfare legislation, the Family First Prevention Services Act. In addition, the Policy Council shared that the 2019 Policy Council recommendations were also informed from the Children’s Bureau Information Memorandum, ACYF-CB-IM- 19-03, that encourages the engagement and involvement of youth and families in the child welfare process and case planning.
The 2019 policy recommendations are:
• Priority 1: Substance misuse and mental health crises are tearing our families apart — treat them with the urgency and resources that they require.
• Priority 2: Connect our families to services, even after we have been reunified with our family.
• Priority 3: Don’t use our removal as a way to punish our parent(s).
• Priority 4: Explore the multitude of reasons why youth are “aging out” of adoptions and look at how it can be prevented.
• Priority 5: Engage with us during the investigation and when developing prevention services for my family.
To date, only four states, Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, and Utah, have submitted their Title IV-E Prevention plans, though reports suggest that many more will submit in the coming months, especially as more guidance and services are approved through the Clearinghouse. Many of the priorities have huge challenges for states and jurisdictions, including prioritizing substance abuse treatment for a parent and balancing family preservation when services are lacking across the country. The policy council recommends that child welfare agencies and community public health systems partner to address the substance use and mental health needs of families.
The likely impact of Family First that was mentioned is the focus on reunification services for children and families, and the Policy Council emphasized how being connecting with services after a child has been reunified mitigates children’s re-entry into foster care. A provision of the Family First Act is the ability to draw down Title IV-B funds for fifteen months after the child(ren) exit foster care. Re-imaging child welfare services for children and families, is going to take workforce development and training for all child welfare workers, especially on the front end. The policy council emphasized that “child welfare professionals must recognize that removing a child from his or her family/parents does not eliminate the risks for that child,” and recommends that training for the workforce is crucial.
Many of the recommendations offered by the Policy Council are questions that many child welfare advocates and others are engaging the Administration, Congress, and states on the best practices, standards, and policy changes needed to implement Family First effectively. The Policy Council’s fourth priority of addressing post-adoption services and supports was included in the 2017 Five Ideas document that is a constant area of improvement for the field. Family First, as interpreted, can assist in the prevention of youth “aging-out” of adoptions if states elect to expand their candidacy definition to include this vulnerable population of youth, in addition, if states have extended foster care beyond 18, young adults under the age of 21 should be eligible for prevention services and supports.
Justin and Brittany affirmed the final recommendation from the Policy Council of engagement with youth during the investigation and case process as a significant opportunity for child welfare to improve services to youth and families in crisis. They shared how they presented the priorities to Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner as they were developing the recommendations. Most recently, at the National Judicial Leadership Summit on Child Welfare, Associate Commissioner Milner stated that “the current system is too quick to remove children from their families, without appreciating the stress this causes to the children … And that the system is focused on fixing the damage rather than on trying to prevent the damage.” The Policy Council comprised of young people with experience in the foster care system five policy priorities are more than ideas for child welfare stakeholders to consider but recommendations to improve the system-at-large and better outcomes for children and families.
FosterClub and Foster Care Alumni of America with support from the Casey Family Programs serve as the partners for the Policy Council. The Policy Council noted that there would be additional recommendations on topics such as Supporting Successful Older Youth Transitions to Adulthood, Quality Residential Care, and Special Populations.
For more information, visit the Policy Council at www.nationalpolicycouncil.org.