The Senate Caucus on Foster Youth held the third of its Congressional Briefing Series, Part Three: Promising Solutions for the Future: What Can Be Done to Meet Child and Family Substance Abuse and Mental Health Needs? Panelists included Nancy Young, Children and Families Futures, Mark Casas, student and former foster youth, Tianna Van Tassel, Bridges Inc., Sacramento CA, John Damon, Executive Director, Mississippi Children’s Home Services, and Rebecca Shipp, Senate Finance Committee (Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT)

Nancy Young, who presented at the recent CWLA National Advocacy Summit and presented some key data on substance abuse, built on some of her previous presentations at the earlier caucus panels and showed a video that provided insight on an Oregon-based program, OnTrack and their initiatives on family based treatment programs including their treatment package that also helps to address the housing component for effective family-based treatment.

Mark Casas focused on the challenges he faced as a young man in foster care. Those struggles revolved around a mother with severe mental health issues. At one point he and his sister ran from their home for their own safety. After running and returning to school and informing his teachers he was placed along with his sister in foster care. He stayed in care for more than five years and, at age 18 when he aged out, he became more of the caretaker for his mother. He is now close to completing his college education but is still the main caretaker of his mother who still suffers from severe mental illness.
Tiana Van Tassel talked about their early intervention program and the use of the drug court through Sacramento County Bridges Inc. The Sacramento program was another example of the program that was able to expand and improve it services as a result of the 2007 regional partnership grant (RPG). The RPG’s, which are due for a re-authorization, has helped to facilitate family-based drug treatment across the country. The first grant and focus was on families that have come into the system and providing treatment that was more family-based and kept families together. She also talked about a later grants that focused on earlier intervention. The former grant assisted 4200 parents with 6300 children and the later program has helped 1400 parents.

John Damon talked at length about the range of in-home services that his agency provides throughout Mississippi including family preservation and support programs. In his comments he emphasized that serving the best interest of the children and family means that you have the right treatment, at the right time based on accurate assessment, the right type of placement and the right length of time in need of treatment. He also talked about the need for what he called a three-legged stool that is a partnership between the private, public and nonprofit communities as the most effective strategy to reduce and prevent placements in out of home care.

The final speaker was Becky Shipp, from the Senate Finance Committee. She discussed the significance that the Families First Draft legislation could have on access to drug treatment. That draft (unveiled along with the support of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) is under discussion between staffs from the Senate Finance Committee and House Human Resources