YSI: Observations on “Big Three” Child Welfare Finance Plan

A few weeks back we reported that three groups – Alliance for Children and Families, the National Organization of State Associations for Children (NOSAC), and the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) – are backing a new federal child welfare financing proposal.

For the purpose of brevity, we’ll start calling it “The Big Three” plan.

The plan would free up more money to be used for purposes other than foster care. But unlike another finance reform proposal, which was introduced as federal legislation by Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) in June, The Big Three plan would not limit the use of federal funds going to residential and congregate care providers.

“All the talk about [limiting] residential, this is craziness,” said Alliance CEO Susan Dreyfus, in a September speech to children’s services providers in California. “If you don’t want kids in emergency rooms or psychiatric hospitals, why would you want to limit your use of group care?”

You can read the existing details of the plan by clicking here. In a nutshell, the plan takes three major child welfare funding streams  (IV-E, IV-B and Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act), takes all of the allowable uses for any of them, and make those uses allowable under all of them. What is allowed for IV-E becomes allowable for the other two, and so on.

In doing so, states would be empowered to spend all of the money on services ranging from prevention and family preservation all the way to group homes and emergency shelters.

As mentioned, not all of the details are ironed out. YSI certainly expects that the Alliance will hear feedback from its ranks next week at its national conference in Pittsburgh.

A few YSI observations on the plan so far:

1) A plan pushed by these three groups should carry a tremendous amount of weight with Congress. But the dues-paying members of these entities are the organizations and professionals carrying out child welfare and family services.

Will Congress take it seriously? Who knows?

Dreyfus sold the plan in California as “not an entitlement, and not a block grant.” If we have a Republican Senate and House, you could see quick support for the notion of capping an open-ended entitlement, even one that has not ballooned in recent history.

2) As best we can tell, there is no precedent for the repositioning being proposed by the Big Three. Not just in child welfare financing; but with any federal financing. YSI had some veteran Capitol Hill number-crunchers take a look at the overview of the plan, and that is what we heard back.

The idea is to leave the structure of these three programs relatively intact but permit any one of them to be used for any purpose. But the plan also relies on establishment of a base amount each state would draw from the combination of the three programs. How that basing occurs is one of the pieces of The Big Three plan that hasn’t been entirely fleshed out yet.

3) One prominent member of the Alliance family supports the push for flexibility, but was not happy with Dreyfus’ full-throated support for residential care.

“Those who vilify residential care are the ideological extremists and the lunatic fringe of sector,” said Alliance board member Jeremy Kohomban, CEO of New York-based The Children’s Village, in an interview with YSI. “But residential care is a place of treatment and stabilization and not a destination. No one who cares about these children and their communities could be advocating for residential care as a way of life.”

A plan released last year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative proposed three-year limits on federal IV-E funds for foster care and a one-year limit on those funds for residential care (and only for teens). Tenets of this proposal have been picked up in legislation proposed by Langevin and by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Kohomban, who was honored by the Alliance in 2011 for effectiveness in child welfare services, was a featured speaker at the press conference announcing the plan.

“I’m surprised that Susan would take this position that three years is not enough,” Kohomban said. “To those who think 3 years of foster care is inadequate – I ask, when did a temporary safety net for children in crisis become a way of life and terrible outcomes?”

4) The Big Three and Annie/Jim Casey plans could, in theory, work together. While Dreyfus’ comments in California identified at least one clear philosophical distinction between them, the Annie/Jim Casey plan can fit into the machinations of the Big Three plan.

Annie/Jim Casey call for limitations on IV-E expenditures for any one youth; the savings would be invested in better foster care recruitment, training and transitional services. The Big Three plan does not call for any change to allowable services under IV-E, IV-B or CAPTA; it simply unifies the existing ones.

So the IV-E structure could be changed and the new structure could be incorporated into The Big Three plan. It would likely come down to this: The Big Three would have to accept some limits, and the Caseys would have to accept some expansion of those limits.

Rob Geen, who leads the Annie/Jim Casey push on finance reform, said he is “waiting for more details” on the Big Three plan.

“Group care is an essential part of the child welfare system,” Geen said.

“We want to improve group care, not eliminate it. But we also think it should be a short term intervention.”

 Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle Editor John Kelly.

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