Co-Authored by Jess Dannhauser, President and CEO, Graham Windham
Removing a child from his or her family is inherently traumatic and de-stabilizing to the child and the family. In some cases, this is the only way to ensure safety. However, early interventions that consistently include families are often more effective long-term solutions and cost less taxpayer money. For over 20 years, best practice and policy has been transitioning to investment in preventive care and family support, but funding has not followed. Our Federal child welfare financing system gives states little incentive to invest in prevention and family services that help keep children safely at home. Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, the Nation's largest child welfare funding stream, currently provides States with a Federal funding match for children only after they are placed in foster care. At the same time, Federal funding for broad, community-based, primary prevention programs through title IV-B of the Social Security Act is too limited to reach the significant number of families in need.
As leaders of organizations that partner with the City and State of New York to deploy the full continuum of family and youth development services, we know that more than one solution is necessary to help each of our children to succeed. Research and experience shows us that whenever possible, family must be at the core of any solution we provide, including in-home preventive treatment services, parent peer supports, family-based foster care and residential treatment. The earlier we offer real help to the entire family, rather than simply focusing on the child, the greater our chances of preventing trauma associated with maltreatment, removal from the home and instability.
Allow us to share a recent story from our own work that we hope helps put a human face to this legislation.
The following is a letter that we received from a parent whose teenage son was at risk of being removed from her care for residential placement. This family received preventive care that allowed them to stay together safely.
I feel much stronger and learned how important consistency is with my teen. I learned how to say no and not give in. I also learned how to separate my emotions from discipline. The program helped me find a balance. I liked that the program is for the whole self and the whole family. It includes all aspects of yourself you want to improve, not just keeping tabs on the teenager. The fact that it is available 24 hours a day is awesome! And it was wonderful to feel that the therapist genuinely cared about my child, Eric. Some things I got out of treatment were being more consistent with Eric and learning how to say no and stick to it. I think Eric gained better skills in being able to express himself and he is now better able to accept "no" and regain control of his emotions when he gets upset. Through working with the program, I learned so much better how to express myself without so much emotion, particularly anger, and deal with people outside the family in a more effective way.
For too long, early investment in families has been limited by the primary federal funding stream, known as Title IV-E, first established as part of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980. Title IV-E funding is linked to an antiquated income standard and prioritizes reimbursement for children removed into foster care over preventive interventions that support families to avoid removal. This means that even though we know that in many cases our children are more likely to succeed if we work with them in the home, which is a less expensive option and often the most effective option, lack of funding has inhibited this work. Doing what is best for the child often means less income for our organizations -- a choice we have been proudly making for many years.
In some cases, Federal waivers to Title IV-E have provided a few States, including New York, with flexibility in these laws. These waivers are currently instrumental in reducing the number of children in foster care and keeping children safe in families -- where they belong and where they are more likely to succeed. The waivers have allowed us to see great success in New York City. Unfortunately, the waivers are temporary. Today, there is great reason for hope as a bi-partisan legislative effort led by Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Ron Wyden proposes changes to Title IV-E. A bill they have proposed expands Federal funding available under parts B and E of title IV of the Social Security Act for earlier intervention and family services to help keep children safe and supported at home with their parents or other family members, give States and Indian Tribes the flexibility to adapt evidence-based family services to the specific needs of each family, and ensure that States and Tribes are held accountable for allocating services in ways that maximize safety and permanency for children, while minimizing the prevalence of long foster care placements. "This proposal is meant to address the lopsided structure of federal child welfare financing in which the vast majority of dollars are reserved for payments only when children are removed from their home," Wyden said in an interview.
If enacted, for the first time, Title IV-E funding will be available for children and families that would incentivize preventive, in-home care -- keeping children safely with their families and saving taxpayer money. Our experience teaches us that some children will still need to be removed from families when their safety is in question. Doing right by kids whose removal is necessary need not preclude us as a nation from acting sooner to help struggling families, the overwhelming majority of whom we know from experience have the best intentions for their children, but need effective support. We are confident that this change to the Federal Title IV-E will allow us to not only keep children safe, but it will strengthen our families, reduce long-term costs and it will allow states to begin to experience the successes that we have seen in New York City.