It’s Time to Realign Child Welfare Financing Structure to Support the Outcomes We Want for Children and Families
On July 29th the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support held a hearing on how child welfare waiver demonstration projects can be used to promote child well-being. Rutledge Q. Hutson testified at that hearing arguing that reauthorizing child welfare waiver authority is insufficient to alter the outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system. Instead, Ms. Hutson argued that we need comprehensive financing reform - reform that will both infuse new resources into and redirect resources within the child welfare system to provide needed services and supports that keep children out of foster care whenever safely possible. At the conclusion of the hearing, Chairman McDermott and Ranking Member Linder expressed interest in what comprehensive financing reform would entail and requested all witnesses to provide supplemental testimony outlining their ideas for such reform. The following are excerpts from Ms. Hutson's supplemental testimony.
The vast majority of federal support for child welfare is available only after harm has occurred and children are removed from their families. The single largest federal child welfare source of funding generally cannot be used to prevent child abuse and neglect from occurring nor to intervene when it is still possible to keep a child safely at home.
While Fostering Connections took many critical steps towards improving outcomes for children who enter foster care, it did relatively little to try to prevent children from needing to enter foster care in the first place. There was broad recognition that the more difficult challenge of realigning the financing structures to prevent abuse and neglect and avoid foster care when possible remained.
CLASP believes there are three broad components of comprehensive financing reform:
- Expanding Title IV-E funds to support the full continuum of services needed by children who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing child abuse and neglect.
- Increasing support to enhance the child welfare workforce.
- Increasing accountability - both fiscal accountability and accountability for the outcomes children and families experience.
CLASP believes that none of these individual proposals can bring about the comprehensive reform needed. We believe that redirection and reinvestment alone will be insufficient - for many of the same reasons that waivers cannot bring about the changes needed. In addition to redirection and reinvestment, Title IV-E will also need to be expanded to cover new services.
In addition to increasing the services available to children and families, effective reform will require more support for child welfare workers - from the front line workers to supervisors to child welfare directors. The heart of child welfare work happens where the worker interacts with the family, builds rapport with them, understands their strengths and weaknesses, identifies underlying problems, connects the family to needed services, ensures that those services are provided and are in fact appropriate, continually works with the family to assess needs and adjust services so underlying problems can be resolved and the family can care for their children.
CLASP envisions comprehensive financing reform that dramatically changes what services are available to children who have experienced abuse or neglect and those at risk of experiencing such maltreatment, as well as their families. We hope many more children and families are served without turning to foster care. In order to know if these new and redirected investments actually make a difference, a comprehensive financing package will need a number of accountability measures.
CLASP believes that to really improve the outcomes children and families experience we must enact comprehensive financing reform. It is time to realign child welfare financing structures so child welfare workers have the tools they need to prevent abuse and neglect; to intervene early so children can safely remain with their families and avoid foster care; to quickly, and safely, return children to their families when it is necessary to place them in foster care; and to provide the supports necessary to maintain permanent families when children return home, are adopted or move to legal guardianship with relatives.
It is important to note that CLASP developed these recommendations as part of a collaborative process with over 30 national organizations. As Ms. Hutson notes in her testimony:
Prior to the enactment of Fostering Connections, CLASP, together with nearly thirty national organizations, formed the Partnership to Protect Children and Strengthen Families and released a set of recommendations for reforming child welfare financing. Many of those recommendations were included in Fostering Connections. Since the legislation was enacted, the Partnership, along with a number of other organizations, has been working diligently to develop a set of recommendations about the next steps in comprehensive reform. The work of this group is not yet complete, so in this testimony I am not speaking for the Partnership or any of the other organizations. On the other hand, I want to acknowledge that I am drawing from the initial recommendations released in 2007 and also borrowing the good ideas that have been shared in the process of developing the next set of recommendations.