Federal Legislation Seeks to Reduce Need for Foster Care

 There has been a dearth of attention to federal legislation tucked away in the congressional budget package earlier this year that could be a game-changer for many young people facing the prospect of entering the foster care system.

There has been a dearth of attention to federal legislation tucked away in the congressional budget package earlier this year that could be a game-changer for many young people facing the prospect of entering the foster care system.

Foster care has drawn a lot of attention in Oregon, but surprisingly little of that attention has focused on under-the-radar congressional passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act as part of the budget deal approved in February.

Appearing on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Think Out Loud,” Senator Sara Gelser, a Corvallis Democrat who has led the charge on foster care reforms in Oregon, praised the federal legislation for reimbursing services intended to prevent children from entering the foster care system.

The legislation allows for federal reimbursement of up to 12 months of mental health services, substance abuse treatment and in-home parenting skill training. Language in the bill seeks to give states an incentive to reduce foster care placements in congregate care facilities. States are required to develop a plan to use the enhanced federal resources to find safe alternatives to foster care. 

 Senator Sara Gelser has been a strong advocate for foster care reforms in Oregon and is leading a work group to develop Oregon’s plan to tke advantage of new federal resources made available by the Family First Prevention Services Act.

Senator Sara Gelser has been a strong advocate for foster care reforms in Oregon and is leading a work group to develop Oregon’s plan to tke advantage of new federal resources made available by the Family First Prevention Services Act.

Provisions continue and enhance child and family service support programs, including $8 million for competitive grants to support recruitment and retention of “high-quality” foster families. The legislation reauthorized the Stephanie Tubbs Jones child welfare services program, the Court Improvement program and the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. Chafee supports can continue until a youth reaches age 23 and training vouchers can be extended until age 26.

The legislation also reauthorized the Adoption and Legal Guardianship Incentive Payment Program, which is viewed as a crucial tool to keep children out of foster care. Compared to other states of similar size, Oregon has nearly double the foster care utilization rate with an average of 7,600 kids receiving care every day (based on 2016 numbers). This results in high caseworker turnover in Department of Human Services due to burnout, extreme stress on existing foster parents and a more difficult time recruiting new foster families to help with the caseload.

Gelser says work is underway on the required Oregon plan to take advantage of the legislation. She recently convened a work group made up of advocates, providers, agency leadership and other lawmakers to dive into the policy implications of FFA and prepare a roadmap for success. How the feds interpret key provisions of the new law will directly impact Oregon and this group will prepare recommendations and advice to the US Department of Health and Human Services before guidelines are released this October.

Interested parties can review materials and contribute to the conversation by checking out the work group's website:  https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/gelser/Pages/Family-First.aspx.Senator Sara Gelser Family-First

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Dale Penn II is a partner and leader of the CFM’s state affairs team. He has been deeply involved in government relations and regulatory affairs in Oregon for more than 12 years and was active on behalf of a range of clients in the 2018 Oregon legislative session.