By Shannon Saul and Nina Williams-Mbengue
More than 40 state legislators and legislative staff took part in NCSL’s Family First Bootcamp in August.
During the two-day virtual event, attendees considered their roles in states’ implementations of the landmark federal law and wrestled with the effects of COVID-19 on child welfare systems, racial disparities and how to effectively manage the complex web of federal and state funding streams.
Attendees worked in small groups to address concerns about how to pay for evidence-based prevention services, strategies for making services available in rural or inaccessible areas and ensuring that services are culturally responsive.
Conversations also focused on responding to the long-standing disparities for children of color made even more evident by COVID-19, how to support youth aging out into a pandemic environment and how to prioritize relative and foster family placements.
Speakers included Joyce James, a former executive for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, who dove into disproportionalities and disparities in child welfare systems.
Two young people who had been in foster care in New York and California shared their first-hand experiences with having a lack of resources and described how communities of color were especially hard hit by COVID-19. They also reported that many young people had no housing or were afraid to be placed with families during the pandemic because of fears of COVID-19 infection.
Participants also learned how administrators and community service providers from the District of Columbia, California and Kentucky are approaching planning and implementation of Family First in the wake of COVID-19. They discussed how they are using Family First Transition Act funds intended to assist states in meeting the mandates of Family First and how lessons from COVID-19 might be driving new thinking around broader reform of child welfare.
The District of Columbia plans to use its funds in the 2021 fiscal year for staff training and direct services for families without a formal case with Child Protective Services. California is using the funding for county prevention services, and Kentucky will use its Transition Act dollars to expand prevention services, QRTP assessments and program administration.
Presenters also discussed how COVID-19 has increased awareness about poverty and racism and the impact of both on child welfare. They also validated the importance of front-end services and the potential of virtual contact to improve responsiveness through information kiosks, teleservices and more.
Participants developed “blueprints for action” with goals and timeframes to reengineer their child welfare systems.
Goals included expanding home visiting programs, addressing the issue of children housed in correctional facilities or sent to out-of-state facilities, closely examining racial disproportionality in states through the use of data, standardizing the definition of neglect and incorporating the voice of families and youth into planning and decision-making.
Additional NCSL Resources:
Shannon Saul is a research analyst in NCSL’s Children and Families Program. Nina Williams-Mbengue recently retired from NCSL after nearly 25 years working on child welfare issues.