On Wednesday, August 5, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee introduced the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act, S 1964 with 7 additional cosponsors for the Senate Finance Committee.
The legislation had been circulated as a draft in the late spring and Wyden received feedback from more than 60 organizations. At introduction the bill had the support of CWLA and a sign-on letter of support from more than 65 organizations with additional endorsements coming in after introduction.
As the Senator describes it, the “Wyden proposal would expand the federal foster care entitlement to do more than just pay a daily rate to keep children housed in foster care homes. Instead, States and Tribes would be able to use foster care funds to provide families in crisis with the supports, services, and evidence-based interventions needed to keep their children safely at home and out of foster care.” The legislation would allow states to use Title IV-E funds for a limited amount of services for children who are considered “a candidate for foster care.” The term has been used in the past to define a very limited amount of services generally for children almost certain to end up in foster care. The bill seeks to expand the definition and use of allowable services. Eligibility for the services is not linked to the 1996 ADFC eligibility standard (look-back).
States could provide up to 12 months of services to vulnerable families to prevent their placement into foster care or to provide support to children once they have been reunified (more than 50% of children who leave foster care). Such services could support kin families or families who have adopted children. States would have to have a state plan on the use of services.
Services covered include:
- 1) Parenting and family skills training and parent education, including parent advocates, peer-to-peer mentoring and support groups for parents, primary caregivers, and potential kinship caregivers.
- 2) Individual, group, and family counseling, mentoring, and therapy, including intensive family preservation or reunification programs and trauma-informed care.
- 3) Services or assistance to address barriers to family preservation and reunification, including mental health needs, domestic violence, substance abuse, and inadequate housing.
- 4) Crisis assistance or services to stabilize families in times of crisis or facilitate kinship placement, such as transportation, clothing, household goods, assistance with housing and utility payments, child care, respite care, and assistance connecting families with other community-based services.
The legislation would invest new money into child welfare services through Title IV-E of the Social Security Act unlike other proposals that have been structure around “budget neutrality” within child welfare (i.e. cuts in one area to fund another). The legislation actually builds on and expands on a more limited Administration FY 2016 budget request to expand the use of candidate services.
The bill is significant because it is coming from one of the two highest ranking members of the key Senate committee and Senator Wyden and Senator Hatch, Chairman of the committee have been having on-going discussions on improvements to child welfare funding.
After a 3-year implementation phase, HHS would establish national performance measures and outcomes-based reimbursement rates to target federal dollars to cost-effective services. States would have to target at least 25 percent of their services and funding to promising and evidence-based programs by 2018 with HHS providing guidance on how such evidence is defined.
This part of the legislation assigning a certain percentage to effective programs and services is an adjustment from the earlier draft in that it reduces this percentage and directs HHS to define some of these evidence-based programs addressing a concern by many that there are not enough human service/child welfare programs that have that much of a research base.
In addition to the expansion of Title IV-E funding the bill would increasing mandatory funding under the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) (Title IV-B part 2) program, from the current $345 million in mandatory funding to $1 billion (meaning it does not require an annual appropriations). It would also lift the requirement that states spend at least 20 percent on each of the four services under PSSF but would require at least 25 percent of their funds on adoption promotion and adoption support services.
The bill would also restore the $15 million a year competitive grants, the Family Connections Grants, which expired in FY 2014.