Trio of Powerful Child Welfare Groups Back New Plan for Federal Financing

Three child welfare organizations are pushing a plan that would overhaul federal child welfare financing, and challenges other recent calls for limitations on federal support for congregate care.

The groups – the Alliance for Children and Families, the National Organization of State Associations for Children (NOSAC), and the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) – would establish a more flexible flow of federal dollars to states that could be used for foster care or preventative services.

“We found the middle ground between an entitlement and a block grant,” Alliance CEO Susan Dreyfus said, speaking to a crowd of roughly 250 people at the California Alliance on Children and Family Services’ fall conference in Southern California on Wednesday. “It’s not an entitlement, and it’s not a block grant.”

Together, the three organizations represent the interests of thousands of public and private entities serving youth and families involved in the child welfare system.

The plan is in several ways a direct challenge to another proposal being pushed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) and the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.

Those grant makers want to maintain the multi-billion dollar federal foster care entitlement (largely derived from Title IV-E of the Social Security Act), but limit the amount of time that the money can be used to keep any child in foster care. Their plan would also place clear limits on the use federal funds for group homes and other congregate care options.

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

The Alliance has close ties to AECF. Last month, the foundation announced a $100,000 grant to help 15 Alliance members replace residential-only platforms with a more diverse program.

“I am going to be sitting down with the Annie E. Casey Foundation,” Dreyfus said during her hour-long presentation to California providers. “They have been a strong funder. But we simply can’t agree on this notion of the limits, and the vilification of group care.”

Alliance Vice President Katherine Astrich discussed the specifics of the plan yesterday in an interview with The Imprint.

The plan would leave in place three key federal child welfare programs: federal IV-E Foster Care, IV-B Child Welfare Services and the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA).

Each of those programs involves a specific set of allowable services that its funding can be used for. Under the proposed plan, the dollars flowing to states from those three funding streams would be flexed so all of it could be used for any of those services.

The plan would significantly increase the amount of federal dollars available for family preservation and abuse prevention. The IV-E program is currently an entitlement program that allocates billions of dollars to states, but only for services and training related to the placement of children in foster care.

Those IV-E dollars, under this plan, could be used for the preservation and prevention-oriented services that are permitted under IV-B and CAPTA.

Entitlement protection would be replaced by establishing a base level of federal funding. This aspect of the plan is still being developed, Astrich said, but would definitely involve two phases:

  1. An initial minimum funding level for each state based on the state’s highest prior claiming year in a recent time frame (undetermined at this point).
  2. The minimum level would be “routinely and automatically” recalculated to account for inflation and changes to a state’s “demographic and economic characteristics,” Astrich said. “No reauthorization process would be needed.”

The group of organizations has not made a recommendation about how the state would be required to match this federal money. Astrich said that step would be part of a larger financial analysis of the plan, but that there is no objection yet to maintaining the current match level in the IV-E program.

In the event that a state spent more than its federal minimum allocation, the state would be responsible for all of the first five percent of that overspend related to foster care expenditures.

After that amount, the federal government would share the responsibility for the overspending. So if a state was to spend $50 million more than its matched minimum, the first $2.5 million is all state money. The remaining $47.5 million is matched between them and the federal government

Astrich first discussed the Alliance’s joint plan with NOSAC and APHSA at a roundtable discussion of finance reform on Capitol Hill in August, hosted by members of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth. The roundtable also included representatives from AECF, Jim Casey, and dozens of other child welfare organizations.

Dreyfus’ speech in California, entitled “Influencing Federal Child Welfare Finance Reform,” is the first time that any details about the plan were publicly discussed and runs counter to the plan put forward by AECF and Jim Casey, which has been picking up steam on the Hill.

The plan, which is outlined in a paper entitled “When Child Welfare Works,” would cut off federal IV-E foster care reimbursements made for an individual youth after three years.

IV-E funding to support placements into congregate care would be limited to one year, and states would no longer be able to draw on the funds to place youths under 13 into group care.

The proposal by AECF and Jim Casey was first unveiled in October 2013 at the first of several public meetings held in Washington, D.C.

In June, U.S. Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.) introduced a bill that would adopt most of the finance reform plans in the proposal.

AECF Director of Policy Reform and Advocacy Rob Geen, the chief architect of that proposal, has publicly mentioned the concern voiced by other leaders about the constraints on group care.

“We are eager to hear other alternatives,” Geen said at the August roundtable.

Dreyfus’ opposition to the AECF plan’s limits on group care – “We have certain principals that are non-negotiable,” she told packed hotel ballroom – was met with applause by the California audience.

Gail Johnson Vaughan, executive director of Mission Focused Solutions and former director of residential treatment provider Sierra Forever Families, who was in the audience, echoed Dreyfus’ sentiments.

“I am deeply concerned about the [AECF]…proposal,” she said “I see a tremendous amount of unintended consequences.”

Tanya Rigot, the executive director of the Inland Empire Residential Center, a 16-bed group home for young boys, was also impressed.

“I liked that she specifically identified residential treatment as a viable component of treatment for kids versus just a place to put them,” Rigot said. “People in the beltway have never been in the trenches. Come down and see what we see. I am with the kids all day, I have the scars to prove it.”

 John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Imprint. Daniel Heimpel contributed to this story. 

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Legislative leaders in California have produced an initial plan to achieve Gov. Gavin Newsom's call for the closure of the state's Department of #JuvenileJustice, which once housed more than 10,000 youth and young adults and now holds fewer than 1,000.