During this last year, Congress entertained a piece of legislation called The Families First Prevention Services Act. This was an attempt to increase funding for much-needed prevention services for vulnerable children and families by shifting existing funds away from resources needed to provide homes and residential services to children separated from their families. At a time when there is a dearth of foster homes and residential programs have reduced their overall capacity, this legislation would have eliminated or significantly limited federal funding for these indispensable services for children separated from their families. This legislation died, but then a few weeks ago was attached to a larger bill called the 21st Century Cures Act. To the relief of Hillsides and many others on both the public and private sides of child welfare in California, at the last moment, this piece of legislation was eliminated from the Cures Act.
It is important to note that funding for prevention and early intervention for families in crisis is very important to support. The vast majority of the 13,000 individuals we serve are children and families who are at risk of being separated, and our community-based programs provide effective services that help families remain together while assuring the safety and well-being of all members of the household, especially the children. Although the availability of these services have reduced the need for foster homes and residential treatment, it would be naive and disingenuous to think that the need for foster homes and residential treatment has declined. The most recent reforms here in California call for an array of services for children in the foster care system that include resource homes and short-term residential treatment to augment the community-based prevention interventions that should decrease significantly the need to separate families and reduce the amount of time a child would be away from their community and family if necessary. It is not a matter of one or the other but rather the availability of a full array of services that then can be tailored to address the needs of these vulnerable children youth and families.
The rhetoric of the campaign season that included promises of support for children in the foster care system has yet to provide any concrete resources for these children and their families. Instead a strategy of sacrificing one for the other persists, and like with so many issues, do not even receive the courtesy of an open and full debate in the chambers of Congress. It is anyone’s guess how a new administration will impact funding for these important services, but it is important for advocates to insist that the needs of children in the foster care system be addressed with a full and open debate and not be reduced to some legislative slight of hand aimed at sacrificing one group of needy children for another.
Editor’s Note: For a more detailed look at why this issue requires an open floor debate, please read this recent article in The Hill by John Kelly and Daniel Heimpel.