In the federal fiscal year 2020, only 39 percent of children in foster care were covered by federal Title IV-E foster care funding. For the first time, the percentage of children not eligible for Title IV-E foster care exceeds 60 percent. That also means that Title IV-E administrative costs and services do not extend to more than 60 percent of the caseload. It is hoped that the new services under the Family First Act will reduce the overall number of children in care, but that same law anticipates more foster families will be available to care for the adolescent population that disproportionately end up in “group” homes due to a lack of available families. Shrinking federal foster care funding will undercut that effort.
The data is included in the annual Congressional Justification of Estimates for Appropriations Committee. While coverage varies widely between the 50 states, the national pattern is clear.
In 2000 approximately 52 percent of children in care were covered by Title IV-E foster care. The continued decrease is due mainly to the eligibility that ties a child’s coverage to whether s/he was removed from a family eligible for AFDC as it existed in July of 1996. Coverage will go down further when the new QRTP standards take effect on October 1, and while some loss of funding will be made up as some children in “group homes” are relocated into family care, the 2016 CBO analysis of the Family First Act projected “By 2026, however, we expect states would increase the number of eligible foster parents and the percentage of children ineligible for reimbursement would decline to about 25 percent.” In other words, after ten years, 25 percent of children now in these residential placements will not find a family foster care placement.
Rather than funding both services and family foster care placements, some are promoting cuts to federal foster care funds as a way to incentivize states to find less restrictive placements or to avoid foster care altogether, historical data provides little support for that theory:
- While federal eligibility decreased, (2010-2019) foster care both decreased and increased. 406,000 in 2010 to 397,000 in 2013 back up to 435,000 in 2018.
- The state of Florida, through a ten-year waiver, had a Title IV-E foster care block grant. The funding could be spent in any way on child welfare, and from 2008 through 2013, foster care continued to decline from 22,187 in 2008 until the last five years of the waiver when foster care populations increased each year, rising from a low of 18,040 in 2013 to 24,563 in 2019 when the waiver ended.
- Foster care existed before federal funds existed. When CWLA published, Children in Need of Parents in 1959 to analyze the foster care population, there were an estimated 250,000 children in foster care despite no federal funding. In fact, the only federal funds, we now know as Title IV-B, child welfare services, were limited to rural areas only until the 1958 Social Security Amendments allowed the use of these funds in urban areas.
Reduced coverage means administrative funds do not extend to 61 percent of the caseload. For example, the recent guidance by the Children’s Bureau allowing the use of IV-E Administrative funds for attorneys for parents and children in the foster care system will only cover that percentage of the caseload that is IV-E eligible. That would mean nationally, 61 percent of the caseload cannot draw down this federal funding for legal services.
Finally, the shrinking eligibility for foster care placements extends to Title IV-E subsidized kinship/relative care (KIN-GAP) since that program functions as part of the federal foster care funding and is conditioned on the child being IV-E eligible under foster care.