At the end of April, Hillsides joined with other advocates to gather in Washington, D.C. for the annual Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) Advocacy Conference. The gathering is an opportunity for members of CWLA to learn about new and innovative practices, to be inspired by the great work that is being done on behalf of children and families who are vulnerable, and to take advantage of the proximity of the capitol to visit congressional offices and advocate for the needs of those we serve.
In spite of the fact that California has one of the most supportive elected delegations in the nation, it is nevertheless important for us to connect with the legislative staff of our respective elected officials to provide them with a first-hand account of the challenges our clients face and our efforts to assist them.
For some time now “zero sum” has been a mantra in D.C., meaning whatever initiatives proposed must not require new or additional funds. An example of this would be the recently passed Families First Act, which provides direction and funding to support children in the foster care system. No new money was added to this important initiative. Instead, money once used for children removed from their homes is now redirected to provide community-based interventions to the families where there is a risk of disruption. There is no question that funds are needed to provide earlier intervention for children and their families that would help to keep them safe and together. However to shift funds from children in care in favor of early intervention is to rob Peter to pay Paul and a formula for risking the safety and wellbeing of children and families who have acute and complex needs. Because of the need to preserve a zero sum approach, we run the risk of inadequately serving both. (For a comprehensive look at the failings of this act, please read “On Child Welfare, an Insufficient Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic” published in the “Chronicle of Social Change” and co-authored by Hillsides’ advocacy consultant Sean Hughes.)
Reforms in California are complying with this federal legislation, but it often feels like an attempt to shove a square peg into a round hole. As one system of care sunsets and another emerges, the greatest concern is that some of the children we care for will be without adequate resources. Every effort is being made to reduce the time children are away from their family. More attention must be paid to families and addressing the issue that cause the removal of their children. Resources are needed to assist these families to be equipped to welcome their children home and sustain reunification. For those families challenged to receive their children, alternatives must be identified in order to move the child nevertheless into a family setting where the usual experiences of childhood can be secured for them. All these efforts require resources, not just policy statements, and at the end of the day, they require adequate funding.
Although a visit to our congressional delegation seems like an exercise of preaching to the choir, it is important for them to know that the reforms we hope will improve foster care may not be achieved without adequate funding and better public policy.