After a lengthy wait, the Senate has okayed President Joe Biden’s choice for a top job in federal child welfare policy. Rebecca Jones Gaston, who has led child welfare systems for two states, was confirmed late last week by the Senate as commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF).
Jones Gaston, who was adopted from foster care in Minnesota, led the child welfare division of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources for four years before leaving in 2019 to take a similar position for the Oregon Department of Human Services. Before that, she was the director of technical assistance for Casey Family Programs, one of the largest philanthropic entities in the field of child welfare. She also previously served as a national campaign director for AdoptUSKids, which promotes adoptions from foster care.
Biden nominated Jones Gaston in November of 2021, and the Senate Finance Committee held a joint confirmation hearing in February for her and Jennifer Contreras, Biden’s choice to lead the Administration for Children and Families, the large division of the Department of Health and Human Services in which ACYF is housed. Contreras was confirmed by the full Senate two months later.
The Administration on Children, Youth and Families is composed of two agencies: the U.S. Children’s Bureau and the Family and Youth Services Bureau. The former, which is led by Aysha Schomburg, administers most of the billions of dollars that go from the federal government to child welfare agencies every year. The latter is a smaller shop, led by Kimberly Waller, that funds runaway and homeless services, services related to inter-family violence, and adolescent sexual health.
Youth Services Insider expects that one thing Jones Gaston will run point on is working to get more states to take advantage of the new federal funds available through the Family First Prevention Services Act, which was passed in 2018 but took full effect in October of 2021. A major provision of the law permits states to access the Title IV-E entitlement — previously reserved for foster care and permanency placements — for preventing the use of foster care in some child welfare cases.
This new funding from Family First was limited to three categories of services: substance abuse, mental health, and parenting assistance. And only programs and models approved by a federal clearinghouse are eligible for the money. States have to submit a prevention plan for federal approval, outlining which clearinghouse-approved services it intends to use.
At her confirmation hearing last February with Contreras, both officials heard from frustrated members of the Finance Committee about the relatively slow pace at which states were getting approved for prevention services and at the amount of programs that had been approved for funding.
Jones Gaston said at the hearing that she was committed to working to find ways to get more “evidence-based practices into our clearinghouse” and “make sure they are the services that are needed for the diverse populations that we serve across this country.”
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