The best news regarding the passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act, (HR 5456, Conference Report 114-628) is that Congress did not get a budget deal and adjourn last week giving supporters and opponents at least one more week to find a path forward.

Behind the scenes discussions have continued but it is unclear if the discussions and advocacy are moving toward passage or tense gridlock.  Advocates in support of the legislation will be holding a “day of action” on Tuesday to express their support for passage.

There are at least three Senate “holds,” that is individual senators objecting to moving the bill on a voice vote.  The states most public with their concerns include California, Wyoming, Texas and New York although it’s not clear how many senators have actual holds (only one is required and all can remain anonymous).

The back and forth has intensified and feelings are getting harder with some on Capitol Hill expressing concerns that failure to act this year would close a window on future actions even if children in foster care get left behind in due to the political struggle.

The debate is taking place against a backdrop of continued increases in foster care numbers with some preliminary unofficial data indicating that foster care increased for the second straight year (FY 2015) by another 12,000 children to 427,000 children.  In all likelihood a result of the opioid epidemic.  That means that over two years from 2013 to 2015 foster care numbers have gone from 400,000 to 427,000, approximately a 6 percent increase over that period.  The numbers do not take into account increases for 2016.

The latest increases took place in 33 states.  Looking back over the two-year period between 2013 through 2015 only eight states plus the District of Columbia have not had increases: Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New York and Oregon.

That last state has just issued a new independent review report to the Governor on the condition of out-of-home-care.  The report was the result of a recent scandal that attracted media attention on both abuse and financial fraud in foster care residential placements.  That report Oregon’s Report on Child Safety in Substitute Care examined both placement issues and the way that potential abuse in placements is investigated and responded to.

The Oregon experience is not unique.  In regard to placement issues the report included four recommendations and finding: there are a lack of appropriate placements for children in foster care, the state’s capacity for high needs children is shrinking, providers across a range of placement settings are not getting the appropriate training, and the urgency to place children is compromising the certification and licensing standards.

The Oregon report also highlighted several other common challenges in state child welfare systems:

  • There is no “silver bullet” solution
  • An assessment tool before a child is placed is needed (not just assessing after placement)
  • The need to develop Oregon’s Continuum of Care
  • The need to build out alternatives to congregate care
  • Substantiated abuse cases were highest in family foster homes
  • 67 percent of foster parents said they did not have the appropriate training to address some of the high needs of children and youth that are placed with them
  • 60 percent of judges and attorneys say that abuse of children and youth in care is related to placements not matched to the child’s needs and 90 percent said they had seen cases where the child was placed with a provider not appropriately trained to address the child and youth’s needs
  • An average of six children a night spend time in a child welfare office or hotel while waiting for placement
  • Child and Family Service Review (CFSR) data indicating a loss of foster care placements while the reports examination of data seemed to indicate a steady supply with a lot of churning, 1500 foster care homes lost each year while nearly 2000 are added

In addition to these findings and recommendations (and the recommendations on how to investigate, better track and respond to instances of abuse in care) they also highlighted other common challenges including over worked caseworkers and understaffing, the need for better data and issues regarding disproportionality including the need for more diverse placement options.

Despite Oregon being able to avoid increases in placements over the previous two years the report highlights a system, not unlike many of the fifty states, that is underfunded and under resourced.