Foster Care, Hamilton and America’s Devolving Compact with Vulnerable People

On February 9, President Donald Trump signed into law the most significant reform to foster care since the federal government got into that business.

This fundamental re-ordering of the government’s role in child welfare extends far beyond the 437,000 children living in foster care today. A 2017 study found that one in three U.S. children will be investigated as victims of child maltreatment by the time they turn 18. That means millions of American children will have the experience of a child abuse investigator coming into their home, questioning whether or not their parents are fit to care for them. This is no niche concern.

Despite the sweeping implications, the debate since the Family First Prevention Services Act was passed has largely been confined to the narrow world of child welfare policy. But, the development portends something much larger: a historic moment in American governance. At a time of ballooning federal deficits and Congressional leaders’ calls for reining in costly “entitlement” programs like Medicaid and Social Security, Family First quietly but significantly expanded the scope of the federal child welfare entitlement, which currently supports only foster care placements and adoptions.

This, in and of itself, could simply be an interesting footnote in the history of entitlements – a federal funding mechanism that confers benefits to all people who qualify – but the story is still unfolding. Amid celebration by its proponents, Family First has also been met with resistance and consternation by populous and largely Democrat-led states, offering an imperfect but instructive window into the history and future of all entitlements, which transfer more than $2 trillion to about half of all U.S. households every year.

President Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935. Photo courtesy The Associated Press.

From the Constitution to Family First in 1,200 Words or Less

Family First is projected to expand the federal government’s investment in preventing children from entering foster care by an estimated $1.3 billion over the next decade. Depending on how many states opt into the so-called “prevention” funds, and to what degree, the cost could be much higher or lower. The law also severely restricts federal spending for group homes and other “congregate care facilities,” which house six or more children.

To do this, the law restructures Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, the federal entitlement that reimburses state child welfare agencies for foster care and adoption services. Until Family First kicks in in 2019, a child must have been removed from their family home and placed into foster care to be eligible for Title IV-E funds. In addition, a child’s parents must meet a poverty standard that hasn’t been adjusted since 1996.

Advocates and child welfare professionals have long decried both standards for eligibility. They call the requirement that a child be removed from their biological family to unleash federal funds a “perverse incentive” to pull children into foster care. And they have been confounded by the “look back” to the 1996 poverty standard, which has meant dwindling federal investment in foster care relative to state and local expenditures.

Family First half tackled both of these problems. First, it opened up the entitlement to allow for a whole new class of beneficiaries – the parents of children who would otherwise enter foster care. Second, it did away with the archaic poverty standard for the prevention services, but kept it intact for children in foster care.

In the face of an opioid epidemic that is blamed for boosting foster care numbers nationwide, the offer of federal entitlement funds for substance abuse, mental health and parenting skills programs has won the praise of many. And that it did away, albeit partially, with this irrational link to a 22-year-old poverty rate has also been applauded.

But for all these and other fundamental and important changes, Family First has also created a backlash within some populous states, while eliciting skepticism from some of the field’s thought leaders, including some who support the law.

Looming behind the debate about Family First’s particulars is the question of the federal government’s role in compelling states to mete out assistance to the vulnerable as it sees fit. That deeper question can be traced back the Constitution, which grants Congress the power to “collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and General Welfare of the United States.”

Alexander Hamilton argued that the phrase “general welfare” gave Congress broad “authority to appropriate its revenues” that “necessarily embraces a vast variety of particulars, which are susceptible neither of specification nor of definition.” The only limits Hamilton suggested on Congress’ taxing and spending power was that it was “general and not local,” meaning that Washington could not enact programs promoting the general welfare in a “a particular spot.”

James Madison, on the other hand, argued that Article I, Section 8 granted Congress much more limited power to use taxation only for fulfilling the 17 other enumerated powers listed in the Article.

As described by historian John F. Cogan in his 2017 book The High Cost of Good Intentions, the Hamiltonian view got a boost in 1833 when Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story published “Commentaries on the Constitution” where he asserted that the Constitution did in fact allow for taxation to promote the general welfare of the nation.

A century later, as the U.S. struggled through the Great Depression, Congress passed and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, of which Family First is now a part. Social Security included a number of groundbreaking new powers and activities for the federal government, including using taxation to launch programs that offered matching funds to state welfare agencies to aid the elderly, blind and mothers with dependent children.

In 1937, the Supreme Court ruled definitively that Congress had the power to levy taxes to fund social services at the state level. As Justice Benjamin Cardozo wrote for the majority in Helvering v. Davis (which tested the constitutionality of a part of the Social Security Act), “The conception of the spending power advocated by Hamilton and strongly reinforced by Story has prevailed over that of Madison.”

Importantly, the Hamiltonian view arguably reached its zenith because of children. In 1960, Louisiana expelled 23,000 children from the New Deal-era Aid to Families with Dependent Children program because their mothers had them out of wedlock, thus making their homes “unsuitable” in the eyes of the state legislature. The “Louisiana Incident” prompted Arthur Flemming, President Eisenhower’s Department of Heath, Education and Welfare secretary, to issue a ruling that the state had to either make the children’s home “suitable,” or find another home for them. The so-called “Flemming Rule” not only marked the federal government’s first step into foster care, but also emphasized the federal government’s power to dictate how states managed their entitlement programs.

The subsequent history of entitlements has been one of growing numbers of beneficiaries, only seldom interrupted; the most notable example being the shuttering of the Social Security Act’s Aid to Dependent Children program in 1996.

While Family First can and should be seen as a strong assertion of Congress’ power to shape lives through an entitlement, I posit that a greater force has settled over American governance: entropy.

The welfare programs enshrined in the Social Security Act were designed to respect states’ rights in administering social services, but subsequent entitlement legislation and Supreme Court rulings have made these programs increasingly prescriptive. Over the past three decades, Democrats and Republicans have come to some consensus that local agencies are better positioned to administer and set the rules for human services than the federal or even state government. This, I believe, calls into question the long-term durability of the entitlement as it has evolved since the New Deal.

Family First offers an overall broadening of limits when compared to the existing structure of Title IV-E. But its time restrictions and limits on allowable foster care prevention services – largely a byproduct of efforts to keep cost down – are less advantageous to some local child welfare agencies than other IV-E reforms currently being floated in Washington.

Both of those other options would loosen how federal funds could be spent, something that many local leaders have long coveted. But in pushing for such reforms – at the long-awaited moment that IV-E was expanded – are these leaders eroding the concept of the modern entitlement from within?

Has the increasingly Democratic mantra of “local control” superseded Hamilton’s vision of “general welfare” as it has evolved in the eight decades since the New Deal?

This graph comes from a June 2018 report to Congress on the “long-term budget outlook” and shows historical and projected U.S. debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP).  Courtesy of The Congressional Budget Office.

Resistance to Family First as a Growing Deficit Looms

The resistance to Family First is fueled by a commingling of concerns. Some state and county child welfare agencies say the law will result in less federal funds flowing into their systems. And even some supporters of Family First concede that its most promising provision – new federal dollars aimed at keeping families together – is overly reliant on the assumption that a narrow set of services provided to the most at-risk families will prevent children from entering foster care.

The most straightforward way for detractors to avert complying with the new law is to convince Congress to extend a 24-year-old waiver program that is set to expire next year, just as Family First goes into effect. Since that program was started, many states have opted in, allowing them to sidestep some of the tight restrictions in how they spend the federal entitlement that funds foster care.

Family First, which was itself budget neutral, sped through Congress as part of a much larger spending bill that is already ballooning federal expenditures — just months after Trump had signed a tax bill that significantly reduces revenue. Both factors are rapidly expanding the federal deficit, likely at untenable proportions. Budget revisions issued by the White House in July anticipate the deficit exceeding $1.1 trillion in the fiscal year starting in October, and will expand by nearly $100 billion a year more than anticipated over the next 10 years.

One would expect that leaders on both sides of the aisle agree that this fiscal imbalance will have to be dealt with at some point. An obvious place to start is by looking to major generators of cost. The top three areas of federal spending in descending order are: Social Security, employment and labor; Medicare and health; and the military.

Of the three, only military spending is largely discretionary, while most domestic, human-services fall into the mandatory spending category and entitlements. The trick with entitlements is that anyone who qualifies is entitled to them. So if you qualify for Medicaid, the federal government assumes some of the cost of paying for your health care. And if you are a child who is removed from their parents (as long as those parents are poor enough), the federal government must pay for some portion of your care.

Depending on your view of the federal role in the social safety net, the best or worst thing about entitlements is the lack of an off switch. If health care costs balloon, as they have, or if foster care rates go up, as they are, federal spending in those areas also grows.

One strategy to contain the costs of entitlements, especially promoted by Republican lawmakers, is to cap spending in a given category by creating something called a block grant.

In 1996, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, commonly referred to as welfare, was replaced by a block grant. While signed by a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, the Welfare Reform Act was passed by a Republican-controlled Congress against strong Democratic opposition. The partisan divide over which system is preferable – block grant or entitlement – while softened and increasingly rhetorical, remains to this day.

Legislation that would have block-granted the entitlement that pays for foster care has emerged twice – both times introduced by Republicans, and both times met by rancor across the child welfare community. But, over time, state and local child welfare leaders’ insistence that they need more “flexibility” in how they spend federal dollars has grown.

A 1994 bill sponsored by Congressman Pete Stark, a California Democrat, proposed experimenting with new child welfare strategies under what would be called the Title IV-E Waiver program. The original waiver program permitted enough flexibility to test specific interventions and models, and required state agencies to study outcomes closely.

Subsequent reauthorizations, under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, offered states and some counties something that looked much more like a block grant. State and county child welfare agencies were given more control to allocate federal dollars as they saw fit, but under the condition that they accept a capped allocation from the federal government.

Since the waiver program went into effect in 1996, about half the states in the country have voluntarily opted into it. Family First, with its highly prescriptive set of rules, is a bitter pill for those states – notably New York, Florida and some California counties ­– that have tasted flexibility under the waivers.

Frank Mecca is the executive director of the California Welfare Directors Association, which represents the interests of the state’s 58 county child welfare leaders, seven of whom currently have waivers. In a stunning turn, Los Angeles County, home to the largest child welfare system in the nation, hired a key architect of Family First to lobby for new legislation that would allow the county to avert complying with the new law.

“The fundamental rules have changed in a very modest positive way in terms of using money for prevention,” Mecca said. “But in the same piece of legislation that has very significant new restrictions for what kids can receive Title IV-E funded services.”

While Mecca and Los Angeles County leaders are wary of losing the protections that come with an open-ended entitlement program like Title IV-E, their solution, the extension of a block grant program, comes at a dicey time for proponents of the modern entitlement structure.

Republican members of Congress, burdened by their complicity in dramatically increasing the deficit, are actively seeking savings by “reforming” costly entitlements. In late May, Ohio Governor and former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal where he decried the February spending bill of which Family First was a part.

“The answer is clear. Republicans and Democrats in Congress must put aside divisive (and pointless) sound-bite politics and at long last get serious about meaningful spending restraint and entitlement reforms,” Kasich wrote. “Those discussions should begin with proposals to deal with the costs of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, which are the greatest contributors to spending and debt. Congressional leaders from both parties must pledge to vote on a package of meaningful reforms.”

The circumstances that have led to an acceptance of an entitlement-limiting funding scheme for child welfare offer an imperfect, but noteworthy, indication of the broader economic, political and practical forces that have led to the idea of “devolution” in modern American governance. That Madisonian concept hinges on the notion that local jurisdictions – not the federal or even the state government – best know how to create and deliver a wide range of social services.

Against this larger trend of devolving power to local jurisdictions, Family First stands as strong assertion of the power of an entitlement, with tight rules and oversight (but a guarantee of funding based on need), to shape and improve the lives of millions of vulnerable children, youth and their families.

But does that concept of the role of the federal government match the times? Is it a body that dictates the actions of man, or is it an unguaranteed reservoir of funds distributed to subsidiaries?

Amid a raging Opioid epidemic, Family First promises new money to keep families on the brink together. Photo: Shutterstock.

‘It’s Terrible, and the Portions are Small’ 

In the minds of many, Family First’s greatest virtue is the liberalization of the entitlement to allow for a whole new class of people to be eligible: the parents of children who would otherwise end up in foster care.

Some of the costs projected for this expansion are offset by the law’s other central goal – new restrictions on federal funds that stop payments for children living in group homes after two weeks, barring specified exceptions. But in order to prevent the cost of the new foster care prevention services from skyrocketing, Family First’s authors did two very important things.

The first was to time limit these services to 12 months of substance abuse treatment, mental health or parenting skills. In addition, these programs have to meet an increasingly high bar of evidence supporting their efficacy.

The second was to limit the scope of eligibility to parents whose children are deemed “candidates for foster care.” Jerry Milner, the commissioner of the federal agency writing the regulations on Family First, recently told Congress that he wanted to “provide maximum flexibility” in what prevention services will be permissible under the law. But current federal guidance suggests “candidate” to mean that without some type of intervention, the child will be removed.

Even staunch supporters of the law concede that the scope of services is limited, but also contend that this is the first step in re-conceptualizing the federal government’s role in foster care.

“Family First is not revolutionary because of the substance or duration of the services themselves, but rather because for the first time it opens up the entitlement to spend on something other than foster care,” said Amy Harfeld, a policy expert with the Children’s Advocacy Institute. “It brings all stakeholders together to rethink what the entitlement should be used for. That is what is revolutionary about it. It made us rethink our values.”

For Richard Gelles, a former social work dean and onetime Hill operative, the limits on prevention services make it hard to imagine how they will actually work.

“It’s like what Groucho Marx said about the food in the Catskills: It’s terrible, and the portions are small,” Gelles said.

For the law to positively change the life trajectories of millions of American families as it promises will require a number of assumptions that Family First’s architects relied on to hold true.

First is the contention that substance abuse, mental health or parenting skills services delivered to parents in crisis will actually work. Ron Haskins – a Brookings fellow and a key player behind welfare reform in 1996 – is a fan of Family First, but points to the limited knowledge of any programs that have strong research suggesting they can do what the law intends.

Haskins said that 7 percent of the roughly 430 programs highlighted in the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse on Child Welfare, which is a repository for evaluations of child welfare interventions, had evidence to suggest that they work, let alone could be replicated.

“It’s very important we should not over-claim that using evidence-based programs will be effective,” Haskins said.

He, and others interviewed, also pointed to the difficulty of one of Family First’s hallmark gambits: that drug treatment programs in the face of a raging opioid epidemic lead straight to rehabilitation. “There are very few successful programs, and with opioids, it’s just a mess,” Haskins said.

The second assumption that Family First makes is that state child welfare jurisdictions even have the capacity to implement the types of programs envisioned by the law.

Milner, the commissioner of the Children’s Bureau, questioned whether rural states and counties, which already struggle with providing a wide array of social services for substance abuse, mental health treatment and parenting skills will be able to field interventions “where families live and actually need them.”

“It’s gonna be a challenge, no way around it,” he said. “I certainly do believe it will require a lot of planning and capacity-building to take full advantage of this part [of Family First].”

The third assumption the law relies on is that, when needed, relatives will be able to step up and take care of children while their parents undergo 12 months of drug or other treatment.

While the law does allow for federal funds to be spent on substance abuse programs where parents can be treated while living with their children, the availability of such facilities is scant and would require significant investment from local jurisdictions. In lieu of that, Family First assumes that kin would be able to take care of those children, but does not offer any direct funds to help them do so.

Research conducted by Jill Duerr Berrick of the University of California, Berkeley showed that differential payment rates to kin in California – including no payments at all – resulted in significant disparities in children’s access to the services and supports they needed.

“Money matters when it comes to raising kids,” Berrick said in an email. “Every credible study suggests that children raised in poverty do poorly compared to non-poor children on health, mental health, academic and social indicators. Substantial evidence suggests that the large majority of kin caregivers we rely on to care for children touched by the child welfare system are themselves socioeconomically vulnerable. Their poverty – without financial subsidies to help care for these children – will mean poverty for these kids.”

And, she pointed out how Family First’s assumption that kin will be able to fill the gap may disproportionately affect families of color.

“Children of color are much more likely to be cared for by their relatives than white children,” Berrick said. “When we intentionally design systems that systematically deprive resources to a group of children who just happen to be disproportionately children of color, we should make those choices very, very cautiously. Setting up a shadow system that is separate but unequal is a path we should try to avoid whenever possible.”

Finally, Family First assumes that child welfare agencies will be able to find family-like settings for children and youth who would otherwise be placed in federally subsidized group homes and residential treatment facilities. Counties across California, which is already in the throes of a major reform to reduce its reliance on congregate care, are struggling to find placements for kids in group homes despite spending north of $100 million over the past three years to recruit and retain caregivers. And a national analysis conducted by The Imprint last year found that at least half the states that responded have seen their foster care capacity diminished, often in the face of rising foster care numbers. The new law loosens the entitlement in regards to reunification services, which will mean more money to ensure that children can stay with their families after a stint in foster care. But, it offers a mere $8 million through 2022 to implement new strategies to recruit foster families.

With all these variables, at least New York, California and Florida are looking to extend their existing IV-E waivers. But that is not the only other solution on the table.

Family First Act

Jerry Milner testifies before a House Ways and Means subcommittee about implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act in July.

Foster Care Devolution 

Trump signed Family First on a Friday in February. The following Monday, his administration released its budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. That proposal was largely disregarded by Congress when it signed a two-year spending bill in March. But within the White House spending plan was an idea that had been germinated back when George H.W. Bush was president: The Milner Plan.

As mentioned before, Jerry Milner is the commissioner of Children’s Bureau, the division of the Department of Health and Human Services that administers the Title IV-E entitlement. He came into that role last year, hyper-focused on the notion that allowing states flexibility in how they attacked the endemic issues that cause children to suffer maltreatment was needed.

So within Trump’s now almost forgotten budget proposal, Milner added an alternative for how the entitlement for foster care could be spent. His plan would offer states a capped allocation of funds, as opposed to the current mechanism or Family First.

“That is exactly the same proposal that Ron Haskins tried to push through during welfare reform,” said Gelles, the former dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. Gelles also worked for the House Committee on Ways and Means when the grand bargain on welfare reform signed by President Bill Clinton was hewn, with Haskins as lead craftsman.

Much like the Milner Plan, Haskins would have given states a capped allocation of funds – a block grant. But lead advocacy groups and child welfare administrators pushed back hard, fearing they would lose money and the protection of the entitlement.

In 1996, there were 507,000 children in foster care, roughly 70,000 more than were in care in 2016, the last year federal data is available. Haskins bet that foster care numbers had crested, and that locking in a capped sum based on those elevated rates would mean more money to local child welfare agencies. But, with heavy opposition from the field, and an already delicate negotiation on broader welfare reform, Haskins and his colleagues on the House Ways and Means Committee put the foster care block grant idea on the shelf.

In 2004, Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) resurrected the Haskins plan and introduced legislation that would have block granted Title IV-E. While the measure was defeated, a subsequent analysis by the Congressional Research Service suggested that state and local child welfare agencies would have brought in about $5 billion more over the five years starting in 2005.

Fast forward to 2018, and you have the Milner Plan, which would do many of the same things envisioned by Haskins, Herger and even before that by Wade Horn, who led the Administration for Children Youth and Families when George H.W. Bush was president.

Milner’s plan would offer states even more flexibility than the waivers and much more flexibility than Family First. In addition, it would include cost adjustments for inflation, and a trigger for more money in the event that there is a spike in the number of children in foster care. But most importantly, it would be optional. Under the plan, states could opt out whenever they see fit and slide back into the entitlement as newly defined by Family First.

“The flexible option would offer states flexibility to actually prevent child maltreatment,” Milner said. “In Family First, for a child to get to candidate status and be at imminent risk means they would be known to the system and would have received a report.”

“Our option would not restrict to candidates,” Milner said. “States will have the opportunity to use federal dollars for prevention programs to keep children from being abused in the first place … because it’s very difficult to repair the damage after a child has been maltreated.”

Leaders within New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) say that they are interested in seeing the city’s waiver extended, and would take a closer look at the Milner Plan.

“If there was a third way, or if it turned out that the proposal that was only barely outlined in the President’s budget [the Milner Plan], looked more like an extension of the waiver capability, that would be something we’d be interested in modeling and exploring with the state, of course,” said Lisa Parrish, the ACS’ deputy commissioner of financial services.

Sheila Poole, the acting commissioner of in New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services, also indicated support for the concept behind Milner’s plan.

“New York would certainly support a proposal that provides flexibility for the use of federal funds and that provides a level of funding that is adequate to meet the needs of the children and families of New York,” Poole said in an email statement sent to The Imprint.

Earlier this year, the Florida state legislature ran a bill – which wasn’t passed – asking the federal government to extend their waiver. A similar bill circulated in the Florida State House in 2017, explicitly asked for a “child welfare block grant.”

In Los Angeles, the recently installed director of the county’s enormous child welfare system, Bobby Cagle, said that “seeking legislation to extend the waiver is one of his top priorities.” The reason: an anticipated loss of $200 million to the agency’s $2.6 billion budget in year one of implementation, and a limit on the flexibility that has allowed L.A. to fund child maltreatment prevention services farther upstream.

“This [Family First] has the potential to have us go backward in staffing as well as backward in the type of preventative services we are able to give families,” Cagle said.

“We are asking for a five-year extension, and we are working with a lot of other states in a similar situation, with the intention that it be used as an off-ramp for now, to allow us to step into the system in a way that is most efficient.”

To accomplish this, he and the county have gone as far as to hire Becky Shipp to lead their lobbying efforts. Before taking a job at Washington policy and advocacy firm last year, Shipp had worked on the Senate Finance Committee for Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the key sponsors of Family First. She had been a strong advocate of the legislation on the Hill, and was emphatic that waivers would not be extended.

Now, only months later, she is playing a lead role in a coordinated effort to undermine the law.

Officials in both Los Angeles and New York don’t believe they are alone in their interest in seeing the waivers extended. One Los Angeles official said that the agency would be reaching out to their counterparts in Wisconsin, Texas, Utah, Nebraska, Illinois and Florida to see if they too are interested in legislation to extend the waivers and avert compliance with Family First.

At least Utah, which currently has a waiver, is tepid on the idea of mounting a legislative push in the immediate wake of Family First.

“Child welfare finance is complex and evolving, and we welcome any future dialogue on how it may continue to improve,” said Ashley Sumner, a communications official with Utah Child and Family Services. “Family First is a step in the right direction.”

Alexander Hamilton (left) and James Madison (right). Photos: Wikipedia

Who Wins? Hamilton or Madison

While many of the child welfare leaders I spoke to for this story were lockstep in their desire to maintain the protections of the Title IV-E entitlement, a handful were actively taking steps that would delay – and possibly undermine – the entitlement expanding aspects of Family First.

Their grievance comes down to control and money. Their answer, to move to something that looks more like a block grant, is understandable.

But what are the long-term implications?

I live in California. Our outgoing governor, Jerry Brown, is a Democrat. His legacy is marked by a consistent devolution of power from the state to the counties, and in the case of education, the school districts.

I often wondered why a leader would want to cede central authority to the locals. Is it simply too complex to have uniform standards across a vast state like California? Is it simply less effective?

There are arguments and evidence to suggest that Brown’s strategy is working to a degree. And given the complexity of a much more vast United States, there are invariably arguments that suggest that states should have more control over federal money.

Family First moved in the opposite direction. Because it was cobbled together with the ever-present goal of ensuring that it didn’t increase spending, it came with incredible strictures on local child welfare agencies. These strictures make it hard to imagine how it will dramatically alter the life paths of millions of American children and families as it promises, and is needed.

In the long view, will Family First’s 100-plus pages of statute be remembered as the apogee of Congressional authority as contemplated by Hamilton? Is the turbulence it has wrought a sign that the compact Congress made with vulnerable Americans in the New Deal and the Great Society is on the decline? Has entropy set in, and is the long-accrued power of federal government on the wane?

I asked L.A.’s Cagle whether he considered his push for a five-year extension of the waiver “as a step toward eroding the concept of an entitlement at a time when all entitlements face erosion?”

“We are being very careful not to do that,” he replied. “We have been very clear with all policymakers, all people in Congress, all in the Administration, that block granting is not an option that we are in any way pleased with.”

Assurances aside, Family First and the other potential directions for the entitlement that funds foster care that I have described seem woefully inadequate to address the need. Since 2012 foster care numbers have shot up 11 percent arriving at roughly 443,000, according to The Imprint’s 2017 estimate.

In Washington you will hear politicians and staffers garble Voltaire in saying “don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Family First may be a step in the right direction, and it also may be the canary in the coal mine on the unraveling of all entitlements.

My hope is that the field, Congress and the White House will take history into account when looking into the future for American families, and come up with a fourth way. One that is comprehensive and thoughtful enough to meet the challenges that this country’s children face. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but at the very least, it should be good.

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New York wants to use a fund for #FamilyFirst Act prep to prevent youth from aging out of #fostercare, but some counties say the money is already spent or earmarked #childwelfare