August 05,2015

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New Child Welfare Bill Focuses on Keeping Families Together

Wyden, Stabenow, Casey, Bennet, Brown, Cantwell, Schumer, Menendez introduce bill to promote family stabilization and prevent foster care

WASHINGTON – Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., was joined by seven other members of the committee today in introducing a bill to keep families together by allowing the nation’s largest child welfare funding stream to support front-end family services to reduce unnecessary foster care stays.

Currently, the majority of federal child welfare dollars is spent on foster care. The Family Stability and Kinship Care Act would give states the flexibility to use federal funds to pay for preventive services that can stabilize families and keep kids out of foster care and safe at home or with kin. Senate Finance Committee cosponsors include: Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Bob Casey, D-Penn., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

“Somewhere in America, a mother has to choose between leaving her kids at home alone to work a nightshift, and losing the wages that allow her to barely scrape by,” Wyden said. “The current child welfare funding system provides two choices: put kids in foster care or do nothing. There must be a better option for families who need just a little bit of extra help and this bill will give the system flexibility to respond to real-life situations of families in need.”

The bill is based on Wyden’s discussion draft from May aimed at opening up those dollars – Title IV-E of the Social Security Act – for evidence-based services to help children return to – or remain safely with – their families or be placed with kin.  

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe in Washington State currently have Title IV-E waivers that have allowed them to test innovative approaches such as investing in front-end child welfare service delivery to help families remain safely together. Wyden’s legislation would allow every state to permanently make these types of investments with federal support.

The Family Stability and Kinship Care Act would also allow states to provide these support services to extended family members who are called upon to take care of relatives’ children at a moment’s notice.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas and Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means subcommittee with jurisdiction over the nation’s foster care system, will soon introduce a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

“I am pleased to join Senator Wyden’s important initiative. Our current system is failing too many children and dividing too many families. More resources must be directed toward preventing abuse and neglect of children and to providing the support to keep families together,” Doggett said. "With early engagement, the need for foster care can be reduced substantially."

More than 60 organizations have expressed support for the bill, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators and the Children’s Defense Fund.

“The Children’s Defense Fund believes the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act represents a long overdue, giant step forward in protecting children by strengthening families,” the organization’s Policy Director MaryLee Allen said. “It will improve outcomes for children by offering services necessary to keep them safely with their families and out of foster care, and assist children in foster care to move quickly to permanent families and protect them from needing to re-enter care.”  

Read the bill text here and a one-page summary here.

The bill’s cosponsors said:

“Our children deserve a permanent, safe and loving home, and that starts with community support for families,” Stabenow said. “This bill targets children who are at risk of entering the foster care system by providing access to critical family services. Not only will this approach keep more families together, it will prevent children from unnecessarily having to enter the foster care system in the first place.”

“This is commonsense legislation that will help more families in difficult circumstances stay together,” Casey said. “Under this proposal states can innovate to come up with the best solution to help these vulnerable children. If we can help families with challenges on the front end then we increase the likelihood that these children will have a better shot at pursing their dreams.”

“We have a responsibility to every single kid in Colorado and throughout the country to do everything we can to ensure they grow up in a supportive and loving environment,” Bennet said. “Providing states with flexibility to use their federal dollars on proven prevention efforts will help keep our kids safe from abuse and neglect.”

“When hardship forces an unexpected stay in foster care, it disrupts children’s routines, ripping them away from their families and often forcing them to switch schools or leave their communities,” Brown said. “We should make every effort to provide parents and kin with the support and resources they need to provide a healthy and safe living environment from the start. By investing in preventive family services, we can help ensure stable home lives for all children and keep them in the care of their families.”