The new Family First Prevention Services Act (“FFPSA”) changes how some of the funding can be used, primarily trying to shift some of the Title IV funds that could previously be used only for foster and adoptive services, to prevention services. But one thing that did not survive early versions of the bill was financial assistance to relative placements.
This has always been kind of a weird thing. On the one hand, as a society we sort of expect family to step in and care for each other becausethey’re family. They shouldn’t need to be compensated for that. And there are probably some concerns about potential fraud, i.e., a family member saying, “If you take/care for my child, we can get some money out of this,” because if there’s a way to manipulate the situation to get money out of the government, there will be someone who figures that out.
But it can sometimes lead to some rather wonky outcomes. There may be relatives who genuinely wantto care for their grandchild, niece/nephew, etc., and who are perfectly capable of being an appropriate caregiver, but who do not have the financial resources to do so. But instead of providing them with financial assistance so they couldtake in this child (and which would likely be less traumatic for the child), we put the child in foster care and pay a stranger to take care of them. This does not really make sense.
If they want those stipends, they have to go through the arduous process of become a licensed foster care provider. And some do that, but that, in turn, gives a false reporting of how many licensed foster care homes we have. Why? Because these are not people who are planning on taking in other foster children—they just need the stipend to take care of their family’s children. This, in turn, makes the organizations charged with recruiting/retaining foster parents look like they’re doing a better job than they actually are.
So we end up with some weird outcomes and weird workarounds to solve those problems.
The bill does provide federal matching funds for kinship navigator programs to connect relatives to already existing resources. Again, on the one hand, this seems to make sense; if there is already a program to provide food assistance, for example, why not simply direct the relative there, rather than provide duplicate services? On the other hand, there may be services that relatives need that are not provided elsewhere, or for which they are not eligible. And there are no funds for those services.
Following are some ideas (not necessarily in alignment with the federal legislation):
What if we directed relative placements to the services they needed that other agencies/organizations provide, but then had funding for services that are not covered elsewhere (whether due to eligibility restrictions or some other reason)? It would still be potentially less than the full foster-care stipend but would allow kids to stay with family that they already know. Navigators could meet with families to determine what they need, what they are eligible for, and who could provide that. A stipend amount could then be determined based upon remaining, uncovered need.
What if we had an expedited foster care training program for relative placements who do not intend to be foster parents generally? This could allow them to receive the stipend, without the sometimes-overwhelming training required of foster parents who want to take in non-relative children. And if they were counted differently, it would give us more accurate data regarding how many foster homes we actually had (and would hold those organizations that are responsible for the recruitment/retention of foster kids more accountable in order to receive theircontractual pay).
And what if we provided them with a dedicated Legal Aid attorney to help with some of the issues that might arise such as housing (e.g., some grandparents live in 55+ communities that may or may not allow children), SSI issues for children with special needs, collecting child support from parents, etc.?
Of course, none of these prevent “original harm” of the child, but they could fulfill the goals of the FFPSA by preventing kids from going into foster care when there is an appropriate relative available.