I set my alarm for 3:00 a.m. yesterday to carefully look at legislative issues on the horizon in Texas for child welfare reform and past proposed legislation on the federal level that threatened the existence of congregate care facilities or at least the provision of federal funds being used for the care of children. My need to do so was tied to the privilege I had been given to participate later in the day on a panel of three people at a legislative advocacy meeting. It was important to me that I be prepared and knowledgeable.
So what are the threats to congregate care? For the past decade or so there has been a groundswell of opposition and a strategic effort by some to eliminate children being served in a children’s home setting unless they need residential treatment. Even then, the provision of care would be dramatically time limited. In 2009, the Annie E. Casey Foundation prepared and widely distributed a pamphlet entitled “Right Sizing Congregate Care”.
The information include the statement: “Congregate care placements cost child welfare systems three to five times the amount of family-based placements – and they are not nearly as effective at helping youths to find permanent homes before aging out. Reducing reliance on congregate care has benefits for children and families, but reforming congregate care can have tertiary benefits that provoke an agency to change their approach entirely.” They also added: “The strategy of reducing reliance on congregate care has better outcomes for children and families, strengthens neighborhoods through support of community-based services, and cost savings that can be reinvested into evidence-based family supports”.
The majority of children’s homes in Texas like the ones where I work serve children without the need for payment. Our agency has a “No Pay Contract” with state. The current policy related to placement of children by the state includes provision in their operational policy that the need to justify placement would have to include the rationale of why a more restrictive setting is needed.
That concept goes against the grain of children’s homes. We don’t consider our services more restrictive that foster care. We provide a live-in cottage parent model with two houseparent couples that devote their attention full-time to meeting the needs of the children they serve.
In 2013, the Annie E. Casey Foundation provided policy recommendations designed to transform federal funding to support best practices in child welfare where the focus on their presentation was delivered to a briefing on Capitol Hill.
The policy recommendations stated: “Restructuring of federal child welfare funds should improve kinship and family foster care, reduce the amount of time kids are in state care and end federal spending on shelter and non-treatment group care, says a new proposal aimed at helping more kids grow up in families”.
Later proposed federal legislation related to federal funding included the following assertions that do not ring true for state regulated child care facilities in Texas:
- · Within the current foster care system, many young adults are housed in congregate care facilities or group homes, which are often targeted by traffickers.
- · Children and youth are routinely denied he opportunity to participate in normal, age or developmentally appropriate activities such as joining 4-H and other clubs, participating in school plays, playing sports, going to camp and visiting a friend
- · The lack of normalcy and barriers to participation in age or developmentally appropriate activities, which are endemic features of the current child welfare system, contribute to increased vulnerability for trafficking, homelessness and other negative outcomes for child and youth in foster care.
Fortunately the proposed federal legislation didn’t pass. Subsequently similar proposed legislation resurfaced without including the negative assertions concerning congregate care, but the outcome would have been the same. That proposed legislation was also defeated, but only narrowly.
This year, proposed legislation in Texas included in H.B. 1542 and S.B. 907 would place congregate care facilities like the ones where I work on a level playing field with foster care as a least restrictive setting. If it passes, it will be a badly needed change based on my perception of what’s important to children.
At any rate, my early morning preparation yesterday to ensure that I had all the information I needed, wasn’t merited. The questions I was asked to respond to included answers that I knew like the back of my hand. The afternoon session was time well spent, but the last minute preparation on my part was unmerited.
I need to give myself permission to rely on what I already know without having to fill my head and memory with other information. If I could learn to do that, it would provide more opportunity for sleep.
All My Best!
Apple Computer, Inc.
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