Senate Passes Cantwell-Backed Bill to Reward Innovation in Foster Care That Keeps Families Together
Bill changes system that punished Washington State’s innovative foster care programs; now heads to President’s desk Cantwell: ‘Instead of punishing Washington state for keeping kids out of foster care, this bill ensures innovation’ ***VIDEO AVAILABLE***
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hailed the unanimous Senate passage last night of the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act (H.R. 2883), which would allow states like Washington to continue innovative programs that reduce foster care caseloads and achieve positive outcomes for children without being penalized by losing federal funding. A cosponsor of the Senate version legislation (S. 1542), Cantwell helped secure unanimous Senate Finance Committee approval on September 20th. U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA-07) supported bipartisan companion legislation (H.R. 2883) in the House, which passed 395-25 on September 21st. The legislation now goes to President Obama for his signature.
Washington state has been a national leader in innovative foster care system improvements. Under the current system, states like Washington lose funding if they achieve successful outcomes for children and reduce foster care caseloads, whereas states maintaining foster care caseloads keep their federal funding. From 2008 to 2010, Washington reduced its foster care caseloads by 13.8 percent. As a result, the state lost $2.7 million in Title IV-E federal funding.
The legislation would allow states to use child welfare federal funding in innovative ways, enabling states such as Washington to continue reducing foster care caseloads, implementing innovative reforms in the child welfare system, and achieving positive outcomes for children – such as transitioning them out of foster care and into good homes – without penalization.
“Let me tell you what has happened in Washington state. We have been implementing innovative programs to improve its foster care system for years,” Senator Cantwell said today on the Senate floor. Watch a video of Senator Cantwell’s full remarks. “Unfortunately, instead of being rewarded for these actions, we were penalized and that is what this legislation has helped to correct. …So this legislation helps us, instead of punishing Washington state for keeping kids out of foster care, helps us ensure the kind of innovation to make sure that the best programs are implemented. …This legislation is a major step forward to promote innovation on a federal basis and to help keep families together.”
The Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act includes a renewal of the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ waiver authority, which enables the Secretary to grant waivers to states so they can use their funding in innovative ways to achieve positive outcomes, ensuring that states like Washington are no longer penalized for innovation. These ‘flexible funding waivers’ create an opportunity for states to look beyond just providing foster care and focus on achieving desired positive outcomes, such as increasing permanency, improving safety, reducing reentry into foster care, improving the quality of existing foster care services, and improving the adult outcome for youth aging out of care. The Secretary’s authority to issue these waivers last expired in 2006.
Washington state has long been an innovator in child welfare system reform. Even in a difficult state budget climate, Washington state has decreased caseworker caseloads, created a relative guardianship program (authorized by Rep. McDermott’s Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, P.L. 110-351), and converted existing fee-for-service contracts into performance-based contracts focused on outcomes.
Washington has also implemented an Intensive Family Preservation Services Program to help keep children safe and preserve families that are at a substantial or imminent risk of becoming involved with the child welfare system. The program provides in-home services such as crisis intervention, education, assistance in connecting to community support systems, and skill development for managing risk factors. In addition, Washington state has worked to address the disproportionately high representation of native children in foster care by implementing the Washington Indian Child Welfare Act, which became effective on July 22, 2011. The Act strengthens the commitment of the state to protecting the essential tribal relations and best interests of Indian children.
As a result of Washington state’s innovation in child welfare system reform, the state has worked to reduce foster care caseloads and achieved more positive outcomes for youth. For example, Washington state reduced the length of stay for children in out-of-home care. The median length of stay for children in out-of-home care declined almost 100 days between years 2009 and 2011, from 574 to 476 days. The Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act would enable Washington state to build on its success and achieve even more positive outcomes for children without further penalization.
As a member of the Finance Committee, Cantwell worked hard with the legislation’s primary sponsor, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), to address the concerns of Washingtonians in the final language of the legislation. Cantwell worked to make sure that states like Washington were not unduly penalized for already implementing innovative child improvement policies prior to 2008. The final language allows states to receive waivers for previously implemented policies, provided that the exact policy or project they are seeking a waiver for has a new element. Cantwell also worked to change the three-year demonstration period to five years to ensure states have the time they need to begin to see true change take place in their child welfare systems.
Cantwell has long supported greater flexibility in Title IV-E funding to better enable states to reduce foster care caseloads. At a Senate Finance Committee hearing in March on the child welfare waiver system, Cantwell voiced her support for reforms to the program that would encourage innovation and help states better achieve positive outcomes for children. During her remarks, Senator Cantwell quoted long-time child welfare advocate Washington State Senator Ruth Kagi when she said: “Title IV-E waivers can help the state move from purchasing specific services to purchasing specific outcomes.”
Cantwell’s full remarks as delivered today are pasted below:
Mr. President, I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about Senate bill 1542 that passed last night. I know that just as people are frustrated here with everything that is going on I think it is important to stop for a second when something does pass and it is good policy that we talk about it. And that is the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act.
Congress took a pretty big step last night in improving the lives of children by the passage of this legislation. It’s about keeping families together. It’s about rewarding government efficiency and driving down costs and it’s about giving flexibility to invest in programs that are proven to work for kids and families.
This bill is about America’s children. It’s about making sure that America’s foster care program works for children so that they can keep their families together.
Too often our federal policies have punished states that have innovative programs. Giving states money based on how many kids were still in foster care. Instead of rewarding success and innovation that helped transition children out of the foster care system and back with their families.
Let me tell you what has happened in Washington state. We have been implementing innovative programs to improve its foster care system for years. When Washington state noticed that disproportionate numbers of Native American children were being placed in foster care, our advocates took action, implementing the Washington Indian Child Welfare Act and developing strategies for strengthening tribal relationships and promoting the best interests of Native American children.
When Washington state noticed, in general, how long children were staying in foster care, advocates took action. This time implementing policies to help reduce the length of stay for children in out-of-home care.
As a result, the median length of stay for children in out-of-home care declined almost 100 days between 2009 and 2011. In addition, Washington state reduced its foster care caseload by 13.8 percent during a similar time period.
Unfortunately, instead of being rewarded for these actions, we were penalized and that is what this legislation has helped to correct. In fact we lost $2.7 million during that time period.
So this legislation helps us, instead of punishing Washington state for keeping kids out of foster care, helps us ensure the kind of innovation to make sure that the best programs are implemented. This allows Washington to increase our capacity, to keep doing the things that keep children who have been in the foster care system from being in the foster care system the entirety of their childhood. This instead, drives them hopefully, successfully back with their families.
Now our state can invest in evidence based programs that have proven to work. And just as this legislation will help us to do, it will make sure that children don’t bounce from foster home to foster home on a continued basis.
We will help to keep kids out of the care system but when possible place them back safely with families.
Washington State Representative Ruth Kagi, who has been a tireless advocate for this system, said it best when she said: “Title IV-E waivers can help the state move from purchasing specific services to purchasing specific outcomes.”
I want to thank Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Hatch for their timely and innovative work on this legislation. I wish my colleagues could have been at the hearing that was held earlier this year. When Senator Baucus asked young adults who had been part of the foster system for their entire lives how to change the system.
I want to thank the Chairman for taking into consideration the specific improvements and innovation that Washington state has advocated for. And I want to thank my colleague, Representative Jim McDermott and the Washington state legislators who worked on this including an organization Partners for our Children and the Children’s Home Society of Washington. I’d also like to thank the various social workers and advocates who in our state continue to try and innovate when it comes to foster care in America.
This legislation is a major step forward to promote innovation on a federal basis and to help keep families together. In doing so, we will have the benefit of also driving more efficiency, and driving down the cost.
But more importantly, we are going to be working to strengthen America’s children and families by trying, effectively, to keep them together.
I thank the President and yield the floor.
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