Macey Shambery
On March 14, the Children’s Home Society of America hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill. Panelists included Nancy Young, Executive Director of Children and Family Futures; James Madison, President and CEO of Beech Acres Parenting Center; and Terry and Jean Childs, Grandparents and Legal Guardians.

Nancy Young started off the panel with a national perspective on the opioid crisis’s impact on the child welfare system and how the government is responding. Young presented the data by HHS reported here last week that illustrates relationship between overdose deaths and foster care entries. As the crisis progresses, Young noted the importance of making sure that there are standardized screening practices during intake and a data system to properly monitor the effects. Young wrapped up her presentation by focusing on key actions needed to address the crisis: legislative packages including resources for children and their families, fully funding CAPTA, promoting and expanding family-centered treatment, and ensuring states utilize multiple funding streams to create comprehensive programs to improve client outcomes.

Providing insight on Ohio, James Madison stated that there has been a 13% increase in foster care entries in a 15-month period, increasing from 12,654 to 15,510. In addition, Madison said 50% of Ohio foster care cases involved parents who abuse illicit substances. Madison outlined the correlation of services provided and access to funding. Ohio’s funding is the lowest in the nation because localities are responsible for funding. With some counties having more funding for children’s services than others, a disparity arises in the quality of service and number of children served across the state.

Presently, Ohio is struggling with increasing lengths of stay in out-of-home care and more kids entering out-of-home care. In response, Ohio has allotted more money for state support, they’ve allotted money from TANF for Kinship Care, and funded a holistic state substance treatment program. At the county level, Hamilton County has started emergency response services through congregate care, increased placements with kinship care, and started training on trauma-informed care. Mr. Madison explicitly called for increased federal and state funding, increased recruitment and retention of foster parents, increased mental health care for children and families, and other vital resources to improve services.

Grandparents, Terry and Jean Childs, provided a personal story. Terry and Jean’s daughter passed away after an opioid overdose, leaving four children behind. Terry and Jean received legal guardianship of two of the children while the other two went into foster care. The two struggle with finances and providing the kids with the resources they need to cope with their trauma and mental health. They explicitly called for better access to resources in rural communities as well as access to licensed trauma therapists for the children and for themselves. The discussion highlighted that around the country, other grandparents are struggling with similar issues. The two children in foster care are receiving more funding than the grandparents caring for the other two children at home. More funding needs to be provided to support kinship care.

In the meantime, the Washington publication, Politico reported last week that the President is set to unveil his opioid reduction plan. It is gaining attention because he will call for the death penalty for drug dealers and increased use of mandatory minimums sentences. That part of the plan would harken back to the war on drugs approach of the 1980s, something that has been avoided over the past few years as even the most conservative members of Congress have wanted to treat opioids at least in part as a treatment issue. The Trump plan may also propose tighter controls and directives on opioids provided through the Medicare and Medicaid programs. It’s uncertain what will be proposed under increased drug treatment, but the articles and additional reports suggest it is significantly more than what he has formally requested in the President’s current budget proposals. They are likely to propose the elimination of the IMD restrictions on drug treatment through the Medicaid program. A 1970s Medicaid restriction on drug treatment according the bed capacity. A proposal similar to what was included in the Presidential Commission recommendations.

A new Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) bill is already being negotiated between members of the Senate including bill sponsors Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Committees are working now on drafts that will likely be taken up after Congress returns from their spring break in mid-April. It is not clear if the funds would be in addition to what Congress is dividing up now in 2018 and 2019 budgets. Other Senators cosponsoring the legislation include: Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).