Preventative measures are needed in child welfare policy, data shows
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There are more than 400,000 kids in our child welfare system today.

Many of the young people in foster care that we have spoken to over the years have told us incredibly different and unique stories. However, with the rising toll of the nationwide opioid epidemic, many have told us increasingly similar stories - stories are of addiction.

Removing a child from their home, no matter the situation, is a traumatic experience for a child. As co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, we have met foster youth from across the country who have shared their firsthand accounts about their time in care.

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Almost every child who was removed from their family due to addiction has looked back on their time in foster care and asked a similar question: “Why didn’t you just help my parent instead of taking me away from my home?”

Last month, legislation that dramatically overhauls how the federal government pays for foster care went into effect. The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) allows for the first-time funding for family services, including substance abuse treatment, to prevent the need for foster care – and provides a response to the question posed by so many we have met.

States report various challenges recruiting and retaining foster families including limited funding and staff; extensive licensing processes; and challenges in finding families who can care for high needs children.

The Chronicle’s data project shows that a majority of states have come to rely more heavily on relatives and unrelated kin, with nearly 140,000 families caring for relative children in 2017. This is a 43.5 percent increase since 2011.

While keeping children within relative families is a positive development, the data also shows that a growing number of these families are being asked to carry out this important role without any support from child welfare agencies. The number of youth living in the homes of relatives and family friends without a single dollar coming from child welfare agencies went up 32 percent between 2011 and 2017, from 81,838 to 108,426.

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Just this month, we, along with colleagues in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, introduced the Family First Transition Act of 2019, which will help alleviate the burdens on families and child welfare systems by providing support to ensure successful implementation of the FFPSA. Far too often, Congress passes landmark legislation without supplemental funding to ensure effective implementation. By allowing Title IV-B funds to be used to support kinship families, the Family First Transition Act helps work towards our goal of preserving families, preventing the need for foster care, and expanding resources for kinship families.

It is important for the federal government and policymakers to ensure that resources and support systems are equally available to foster families and kinship caregivers who are stepping up to care for children. Earlier this year, we introduced the Supporting Kinship Connections Act to support a program where experienced kin caregivers can assist new caregivers as they navigate through the complex systems. Many kinship caregivers are retired with a fixed income and providing these relatives with support in the form of cash assistance and access to community services is far more cost effective than foster care. Most times, solutions like these would in fact save the government money, better assist families, and ensure the well-being of youth.

In order to provide better resources and solutions for youth and families, we need to have data for the issues we are setting out to address. We owe it to our children to get this transition right.

Karen BassKaren Ruth BassThe US treats asylum seekers so poorly Lawmakers visit African migrants at US-Mexico border Preventative measures are needed in child welfare policy, data shows MORE  and Don Bacon are co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth.