Quarter 1, 2018
NCSL can help state child welfare systems develop ways to safely reduce the number of children in foster care. We can make presentations, informal briefings, and testimony before committees and hearings; offer written research and analyses; or conduct informal conference calls with state child welfare administrators, legislators and legislative staff in other states to discuss their experiences with child welfare reform.
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On Feb. 9, President Donald Trump signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (H.R. 1892) to keep the government funded for six more weeks and pave the way for a long-term budget deal that could extend to the end of the fiscal year. Tucked within this more than 600-page document is a critical piece of legislation, the Family First Prevention Services Act, which has the potential to radically change the child welfare system across the country. This legislation borrows heavily from the 2016 Family First Prevention Services Act, which sought to make two major changes to the way states run their foster care programs.
The first major area this legislation seeks to change is the way Title IV-E funds can be spent by states. Title IV-E funds previously could be used only to help with the foster care process, adoption assistance, and kinship guardianship assistance, but now states, territories and tribes with an approved Title IV-E plan have the option to use these funds for prevention services that would allow “candidates for foster care” to stay with their parents or relatives. To ensure that prevention funds will be used efficiently, reimbursement will be available for prevention services for up to 12 months; a written, trauma-informed prevention plan must be created; and services will need to be evidence-based. Health and Human Services (HHS) expects to release guidance on service eligibility no later than Oct. 1, 2018. The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse, however, is expected will provide information on some of the organizations and that will most likely be eligible for states to use.
Congregate care is the other major area that will see dramatic changes over the coming years. To be eligible for federal reimbursement, the Family First Prevention Services Act limits the number of children allowed in a foster home to six, with some exceptions. Certain accredited institutions are exempt from these limitations, but even then, stays are limited to 12 consecutive months, and any nonconsecutive 18 months must be signed off on by the head of the state agency overseeing the program after 12 months. State officials will need to review their procedures in the coming months and develop state plans that are in line with the latest federal guidelines.
For a refresher on child welfare financing, check out NCSL’s Child Welfare Financing 101 page. We also provide a more in-depth look at the Family First Prevention Services Act. This includes information on the maintenance of effort requirements for foster care prevention expenditures, an overview of grants authorized for supporting and retaining foster families, incentives to promote adoption and legal guardianship, reinvestment of savings from adoption assistance, and improvements in the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program.
The recent sexual abuse scandal involving Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics has sparked a national discourse about who is obligated to report what and the repercussions for failing to come forward when abuse is alleged or suspected.
All 50 states have mandatory reporting laws for suspected child abuse or neglect, and the consequences for failing to report range from a misdemeanor or similar charge all the way to a felony. Not everyone who suspects child abuse or neglect in all states is required to report; however, as of 2015, 48 states identify certain professionals that are required by law to report. These are usually health professionals, law enforcement and professionals that work closely with children. Of the 48 states, only 18 require everyone suspecting maltreatment to report, and the remaining 30 allow for voluntary or permissive reporters. Consequences for mandatory reporters who fail to report can range from 30 days to five years in jail, fines or both.
Many lawmakers are trying to ensure the systematic abuse and neglect that surrounded Nassar never happens in their state. The Michigan Senate, for example, recently passed legislation that includes extending the time victims can sue, expanding mandatory reporting laws and removing government immunity from lawsuits. Many other states, including Oregon, New York and Arizona, are looking at increasing the consequences for failing to report abuse or neglect. Several states are considering requiring coaches, assistant coaches and athletic staff to report suspected child maltreatment.
We are nearly a year removed from the 2016-2017 Three Branch Institute on Improving Child Safety and Preventing Child Fatalities, and with the benefit of time comes wisdom. To capture important information and insights, NCSL, alongside the National Governor’s Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices and Casey Family Programs, will develop a toolkit to help states implement a three-branch approach to improve child safety and reduce child fatalities. The toolkit will highlight state examples, lessons learned and other feedback from previous Three Branch Institute efforts. In April, NCSL and NGA hosted an advisory committee meeting with representatives from the eight participating states to guide development of the toolkit. These fact sheets provide an in-depth and graphical look at state-specific data from federal fiscal year 2014. See the Child Welfare Fact Sheets for FFY 2014 homepage to see your state’s data.
A study by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) paints a vivid picture of how the child welfare system is affected by the widespread substance abuse epidemic. Prior to 2012 the nation experienced more than a decade of decline in the number of children entering the foster care system, but between 2012 and 2016 that number has risen 10 percent. The study by ASPE looks at the link between substance abuse and the rising number of children entering the foster care system.
The study examines the strength of the relationship between drug overdose death rates, drug-related hospitalization rates and child welfare caseloads. It also offers insights into the impact of the substance abuse epidemic on children and families (?) from child welfare and substance abuse treatment administrators and practitioners, legal professionals, law enforcement and other service providers.
Ready or Not: Preparing Young People for Independence
In the March issue of State Legislatures magazine, NCSL’s Nina Williams-Mbengue explores the repercussions of aging out of foster care in a cover story titled “Ready or Not.” Using data and real-life examples, Williams-Mbengue considers legislative options for making the transition from foster care as smooth as possible. In addition to the cover story, the March issue also includes another piece about ways states can support foster care parents.
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