On Friday morning May 15, the White House sponsored a forum that focused attention on the topic of preventing placement of children in foster care. The discussion included more than 60 individuals representing national organizations (including the Child Welfare League of America), federal officials, state representatives and individuals affected by the child welfare system.

Part of the discussion focused on the administration’s new budget proposal submitted in February that would expand services under title IV-E through the use of the candidate for foster care category. States have been able to provide some support in instances when a child is considered a “candidate” for foster care meaning he or she is about to be removed from the family. It has been a narrow application of funding and the Administration is seeking to expand its use more broadly and to extend it to families that have been reunified.

Much of the forum focused on recent efforts by states to provide different interventions outside of foster care placements. The morning-long event opened with comments by Roy L. Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity. In his opening comments he highlighted key actions by the Obama Administration in recent years. He listed several including LGBTQ protections for youth in care or adults providing placements, human trafficking policies and most recently the President’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. Austin’s opening was followed by comments by representatives from Casey Family Programs including Board Chair Bob Watt and Executive Vice President David Sanders. Associate Commissioner Joo Yuen Chang, the Children’s Bureau, set the tone when she talked about the three topics they were going focus on, prevention, (of foster care) reunification and post permanency. 2

The commentary by state and local representatives addressed some of the key efforts that have been taking place at the state and local level including substance abuse treatment, counseling, parent support and the need for funding for basic services to families. Speakers included (but not limited to) representatives from Utah, Texas, Oregon, Washington, Ohio, Louisiana, New York City and representatives from the Navaho Nation.

The second half of the panel similarly talked about needed services for families that enter and reentry care. Examples again included substance abuse treatment and the family preservation model, HOMEBUILDERS®. Throughout the two parts of the discussion participants heard from kin parents other relatives and former foster youth.

The discussion wrapped with observations by key legislative staff from both parties from the House of Representatives and the Senate. There was a consensus that they would continue to work on a bipartisan basis to develop some legislation. There seemed to be a consensus among staff that what is needed is a new strategy to find innovative and successful strategies and to expand support. There is also the issue of funding with Republican staff highlighting the need and past practice to always have any child welfare cost paid for before passage.

A comprehensive finance reform package is not likely but some significant changes could pass in this Congress. As a result there was discussion by Senator Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) office about his just-released draft legislation (see below) that would expand Title IV-E foster care funding to 12 months of early intervention services and 12 months of post-placement services and allow the funding to reach beyond the current funding restrictions imposed through the eligibility link to AFDC (the look-back)..

Commissioner Chang closed the session by talking about three keys that she feels strongly about: that prevention (of foster care placements) works, such prevention can save money, and a system that is based on what families need will change how we structure our child welfare services and systems.