Family First’s Opponents Will Have Much to Answer For

When the goal of providing social services is helping children and their families, accountability for results seems like a very good idea.

Let’s take a look at the results so far in the recent efforts in Congress to pass the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFA) approved by the House in July, but now pending in the Senate. And let’s make sure we know who’s accountable for those results.

The purpose of the Family First Act is clear: keep children out of foster care and keep families together whenever possible. Foster care is expensive, it splits up families, and some kids are affected for the rest of their life by spending so much time in inadequate care in someone else’s home or in institutions.

More than 400,000 children and youth — kids who count in someone’s life — are sitting in foster care today, too many of them as a result of the increasing crisis from the nation’s opioid epidemic.

So who’s against the Family First Act?  Sadly, state and county child welfare agencies and providers mobilized against this bill and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) ultimately “held” the bill, preventing its final passage. Many of the group home operators who fear losing the resources they get from foster care funding led this opposition.

Some of the opponents of the legislation have actually said they don’t need the resources that Family First Act would provide children and their families. They claim they are meeting all those needs today, in states and counties where millions of children go without adequate treatment for the effects of abuse and neglect, and parents who want treatment for a substance use disorder are stuck for weeks on waiting lists.

These opponents face hundreds of public and private child welfare and treatment agencies that have supported the legislation based on their sincere efforts to, as stated last week by the Commissioner of the Connecticut agency, “recognize the role of families as part of the solution rather than the problem.”

These other states and agencies who support FFA know that children and families need a more flexible federal funding system, instead of the system we have today that pays agencies much more for keeping kids in foster care than it does to prevent them from having to leave their own homes. That just makes no sense at all.

The opponents of the bill have a lot to answer for. Our country had a real opportunity to reduce unnecessary foster care entries, help parents get the drug and mental health treatment they need, assist grandparents and other kin providers to take on the unexpected role of caring for vulnerable kids, and give real hope to parents who are trying as hard as they can to be better parents and keep their kids safe.

The opponents of Family First Act are accountable as they stood in the way of this progress and protected the woefully inadequate status quo. And while the future of the Family First Act is uncertain, what’s clear is that California’s agencies and the other opponents of the Family First Act will be remembered for standing in the way of the most significant positive reform of the federal child welfare system in decades.

Sid Gardner is the President of Children and Family Futures in Lake Forest, California.

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