The Year in Youth Services: Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice in 2014

Soon 2014 will be a memory of days gone by. For Youth Services Insider and everyone else at The Imprint, the memories will be fond. We will look back upon 2014 as our first full year of publishing, a year in which we doubled our subscribers and our traffic.

Those numbers are gratifying to our small staff on multiple levels, but here’s the big takeaway: people care about this stuff. If you report and publish objectively on child welfare and juvenile justice, there are people who want to read about it. We thank each of you for counting on us to deliver solution-based coverage of the youth services field.

Following is a look back, in no particular order, at some of the most notable developments in child welfare and juvenile justice this year:

Pay For Success: Ideas Become Plans

For the uninitiated: Pay for Success (PFS) projects use private financing to aim at social goals with the agreement that local government will reward achievement in agreed-upon areas.

You could reasonably argue for 2014 as the year the PFS movement went from “crawl” to “walk” in the child welfare and juvenile justice arenas. To wit:

PFS projects aimed at lowering the recidivism rates for juveniles and young adults in Massachusetts and New York City.

A slate of juvenile justice- and child welfare-related projects are well into the planning stages in California, Illinois, Ohio and several other states.

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency has emerged as an early leader for youth-specific work in the PFS space. NCCD is poised to run point on a number of PFS projects after assisting firms with a broader focus such as Third Sector Capital Partners.

This is still a very new and untested approach to pushing public policy toward the best solutions. But it’s fair to say that 2014 marked the point at which money started to flow, and real plans were made.

Residential Care Fights Back

We expect 2015 to be the year that there is a meaningful debate about the appropriate role of group and residential care in the child welfare system. That would only make sense after the shots fired in both directions on the subject over the past two years.

In our look back on 2013, we noted the renewed interest in reforming Title IV-E, the entitlement through which states are reimbursed for spending related to certain children placed into foster care.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation and Jim Casey Youth Opportunities proposed a massive shift in the way that states receive reimbursement under IV-E, the multi-billion dollar entitlement for foster care services administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The plan calls for hard limits on the use of foster care on a child, with the savings directed at several measures meant to improve the quality of foster care. The Casey plan would eliminate IV-E funding for group or shelter care except for those youths over the age of 13; for those teens, federal support for group care could only last one year.

In 2014, Alliance for Strong Families and Communities CEO Susan Dreyfus cordially but firmly opposed the limitations on group care proposed by Casey, which has funded Alliance projects.

“All the talk about [limiting] residential, this is craziness,” Dreyfus said in a September speech at the California Alliance on Children and Family Services conference. “If you don’t want kids in emergency rooms or psychiatric hospitals, why would you want to limit your use of group care?”

Dreyfus used the speech to announce the Alliance’s alternative plan for IV-E reform, which is also backed by the National Organization of State Associations for Children (NOSAC), and the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA).

It is a complex plan that the Alliance concedes has not been completely firmed up and budget-tested. But the basic idea is this: the allowable services of IV-E and two other federal programs would be unified. Those other two programs, Title IV-B and the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, focus more on maltreatment prevention and family preservation services.

Thus, states could start to use IV-E funds for purposes outside the realm of foster care. But it would also place no restriction on the use of group care options for foster youths, should states want to use the money for that.

Having attend the Alliance national conference this fall, we can say two things with certainty:

Residential care providers are pissed at the Casey proposal, along with legislation pushed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to limit group care. There is a sense that effective and caring groups are being lumped in with bad actors in the sector.

Even within the ranks of the Alliance, which is a big-tent group including community, mixed and residential providers, there are some who believe that group care needs to be limited. Even residential providers have conceded the need for potential limits.

“Our agencies acknowledge that group homes are overused, and we’re open to discussions to restrict non-therapeutic” group care, said Mary Bissell, a policy advisor to National Crittenton Foundation, at a summer roundtable between Hill staffers and policy advocates.

The exception, she said, must be to draw a line between group care in general and residential services built around targeted treatment. “We want to ensure that any federal incentives to reduce over-reliance on group care do not unintentionally…restrict residential treatment options for those children who need more intensive stabilization and care in order to return to their families and communities.”

OJJDP Focus on Race

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) continues to have its influence sapped by dwindling appropriations, at least in the accounts that have anything to do with juvenile justice. Fiscal 2014 brought with it the elimination of the Juvenile Accountability Block Grants, and that will now hold up at least through 2015.

But 2014 was the first full year on the job for Bob Listenbee, OJJDP’s first non-interim director since J. Robert Flores left the Bush administration in 2008. In June, he made it clear that OJJDP’s priority would be racial disparities in the system.

From his testimony at a Congressional field hearing in June:

“The one we have made the least success with is DMC. I think there are a lot of new and innovative approaches that are available now through OJJDP, we’re concentrating our resources, our training and technical assistance on this particular requirement.”

Click here to read our breakdown of OJJDP’s grants, which mentions some of the organizations that will assist with the agency’s race-related projects.

Ferguson: Searching for Youth Services’ Significance

If any single issue or incident prompted more op-ed space than the shooting of Ferguson, Mo. teen Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, we cannot fathom what it is.

At its core, this incident had nothing to do with juvenile justice, and everything to do with the use of deadly force by police officers.  We observed several attempts in opinion pieces and policy discussions to make this relevant to juvenile justice. Some were good; others were a stretch.

The Imprint ran two columns that we felt strongly succeeded in finding some juvenile justice meaning in the incident. Lisa Thurau, who leads Strategies for Youth, wrote that the shooting could easily have been prevented if police departments made serious efforts to train police on interacting with adolescents.

Marc Schindler, the executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, noted the calls for more black police officers after the shooting. In a piece for The Imprint, he cautioned that, in his experience reforming Washington, D.C.’s juvenile facility, diversity was trumped by training.

Adoption: Different Incentives, New Data

After a year of bill shuffling and budgetary misfires, Congress passed a reauthorization of the federal adoption incentives program, which provides cash awards to states based on their finalization of adoptions for children in foster care.

It replaces the old measurement – which compared current-year adoptions to a state’s performance in 2007 – with a formula that gauges expected adoptions for a year based on recent-year performance. The incentives are paid out based on how far states exceed the expected figure.

The new incentive structure in H.R. 4980 also offers higher incentives for finalized adoptions of older teens ($10,000), and for the first time includes guardianship arrangements with kin as part of the incentive calculation.

Click here for a complete explanation of the new incentive structure. The law also included an extremely valuable rider on the research and data front. It instructs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a method for collecting data on youths who “enter foster care under supervision of the State after finalization of an adoption or legal guardianship.

If and when this process is put in place, it will be the first time that states are compelled to report on adoption failures. The Imprint waits with interest to see how HHS intends for states to track this; it is unchartered territory from a data collection perspective.

Latino Uptick

The Imprint reported in 2013 about research that suggested, if patterns of immigration held true, America would see a significant increase in the foster care rolls led by increasing involvement of Latino children.

That was an analysis of long-term trends, but recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows it might already be happening.

According to the most recent Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) report, 2013 is the first year since 1999 with an increase in the number of children and youth in foster care. The national total went up by 5,486, from 396,892 in 2012 to 402,378 in 2013.

About 40 percent of that increase emanates from California. And according to similar data collected in state by, just under two-thirds of California’s increase in foster youths is Latino children.

Unaccompanied Minors: “We Need Beds Now”

In early 2014, federal appropriations took services for unaccompanied alien children up from $267 million up to $868 million, in a year when almost every other youth services line took a cut or was level-funded.

The reason was evident by summer. More than 60,000 minors from Central America entered the United States this year, fleeing their countries and crossing Mexico by train. Before 2012, the number of unaccompanied minors entering the United States never topped 12,000. More than 20,000 youths crossed the border in June and July alone this year.

This was without question the biggest youth-related story of the year, capturing the attention of mainstream media and Congress over the summer. By September, it was a distant memory as the Islamic State emerged and Russia took Crimea back.

But the impact of that surge is quite real. The influx was too much for the network of providers quietly assembled over a decade by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which spent the summer of 2014 begging any organization to take in unaccompanied minors.

“We need beds now,” said ORR’s Elaine Kelley, on a conference call with child welfare leaders and providers in California.

The success of this expansion has really yet to be gauged by The Imprint or anyone else. But 2015 will likely be the year we find out the new world order when it comes to federal custody of these youths.

MacArthur Models Wind Down

Laurie Garduque, who leads the Models for Change initiative for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, announced in December that the final Models for Change conference will be held next year.

After years of support for research, organizing and advocacy, MacArthur is out of the juvenile justice funding business, at least for a time. Models for Change began with support for research on adolescents that helped influence major Supreme Court decisions, and then turned toward the notion of fostering state-level juvenile justice reform that could be replicated elsewhere.

The success of all that spending will be assessed over time, by this news outfit and others in the field. But the immediate impact of Models coming to a close will be fiscal, as grants to its many nonprofit partners will end in 2015.

MacArthur’s grants are and were a significant chunk of revenue for lots of juvenile justice organizations, all of which will now have to adapt to a funding landscape that does not include the Chicago-based grant maker.

Among the organizations with a hole in their future budgets is the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which gets $500,000 each year to put on the Models for Change conference. CJJ will get that funding in 2015, along with a separate two-year grant for $300,000 to spread Models for Change lessons among states.

After that, one of the oldest national juvenile justice organizations in the country will have to find a new way to sustain. CJJ used to be buffered by an annual federal appropriation, and MacArthur really saved it from impending doom when that was cut off in the mid-2000s.

Will another philanthropic entity enter the juvenile justice fray in 2015? One unlikely donor voiced an interest just days before the new year.

Landrieu Lost

There are still some strong leaders on child welfare on Capitol Hill: Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), to name a few.

But the midterm elections ended the Senate tenure of Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who co-chaired the Senate Foster Youth Caucus with Grassley. She lost a runoff election in December to Bill Cassidy (R).

Landrieu was passionately and actively invested in child welfare issues, especially adoption. It will be interesting to see how active the caucus is without her and her staff on hand.

Dr. Phil on the Hill

It might seem silly to include one man’s testimony at a Congressional hearing among the major headlines of 2014. But file this one under, “You had to be there.”

Dr. Phil McGraw, who reaches millions daily through television and radio, was the key witness in a subcommittee hearing about the disproportionate use of psychotropic medications on foster youths.

The cynic in YSI expected testimony littered with platitudes and sappy anecdotes from his show. What we saw instead was the potential emergence of a major advocate for disadvantaged youths.

“These drugs can change and even save lives,” McGraw told the committee. But with foster youths, they are “too often misused as chemical straitjackets,” prescribed to mitigate “undesirable behavior” and make foster youths “less inconvenient.”

John Kelly is an editor for The Imprint.

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