New Federal Statute to Encourage Keeping Kids Out of Foster Care

September 28, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Will wonders never cease? As part of the recent short-term spending plan recently passed by Congress, the Family First Prevention Services Act appears to make progress in combatting states’ tendency to take children from parents, place them in foster care and then have them adopted.

That of course came about as a result of the 1998 passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act that allowed Washington to pay states for every child taken into foster care or adopted out of it. As former South Dakota state senator Bill Napoli told NPR back in 2011, “When that money came down the pike, it was huge. That’s when we saw a real influx of kids being taken out of families.

States all of a sudden discovered a zeal for taking children from their parents. One key aspect of the program was that children denominated by states as having “special needs” produced a payments from Washington over twice what the were for other kids. The result? South Dakota simply called every Native American child a “special needs” child, the better to enhance the state’s cash flow.

Now we have the Secretary of West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources, Bill Crouch, echoing Napoli (Parental Rights Foundation, 9/25/18).

“The federal government has always paid us only if we pull children from their homes,” Crouch said according to a report in the (Beckley, WV) Register-Herald, “so this is a huge change in how we’re able to deal with our child welfare problem.”

The huge change he’s referring to is the aforementioned FFPSA. What is it? The Act, that becomes effective in October, 2019, authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services to “make a payment to a state” if the state provides the parents certain services. Those services include “mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services provided by a clinician for not more than a 12-month period…”

They also include

In-home parent skill-based programs for not more than a 12-month period that begins on any date described in paragraph (3) with respect to the child and that include parenting skills training, parent education, and individual and family counseling.

The children who are the subject of the bill are as follows:

(A) A child who is a candidate for foster care (as defined in section 475(13)) but can remain safely at home or in a kinship placement with receipt of services or programs specified in paragraph (1).

(B) A child in foster care who is a pregnant or parenting foster youth.

So briefly, the FFPSA channels federal dollars to states to keep kids out of foster care and to help parents of kids who are in danger of being placed in foster care get off drugs and/or learn to be better parents. States can now be less willing to take kids into foster care and still keep the federal largess flowing. They’re also encouraged to do what one veteran child welfare official urged long ago, i.e. put the “services” into Child Protective Services.” What a concept.

Now, I’d be remiss if I failed to point out one obvious thing – the FFPSA directly contradicts the Adoption and Safe Families Act. The one pays states to keep kids out of foster care while the other pays them to place kids in foster care. I can see state officials now, checking to see under which law their state gets paid more.

Or, I can see it another way. Why wouldn’t a state cash in on the FFPSA by providing, say, parenting lessons to parents, declare that the services hadn’t helped the parent and then cashing in again by taking the child into foster care? I’m such a cynic. No state would do such a thing, would it? Would it?

And of course there’s the point raised by the friend of NPO who alerted me to the FFPSA. It’s quite remarkable that, a year from now, we’ll be paying to treat drug addicts so they can keep custody of their kids, but not lifting a finger to encourage state courts to keep both parents in their children’s lives, even when the parents are entirely fit and upright members of society.

Does it get any crazier than that?

That said, the FFPSA is a step in the right direction of discouraging foster care and encouraging parental care. So the law itself isn’t crazy, just the rest of federal policy on kids and parents.

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