Foster Care Waiver Bill Passes House and Senate

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A bill that would permit states to spend federal child welfare funds to experiment with new strategies, passed the House earlier this week passed the Senate late last nigth.

The Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act would allow up to 10 states to receive a waiver to deviate from the structure set for Title IV-E entitlement funds from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children and Families. Those funds are matched by the state and mostly fund state services for children who are removed from their families.

The bill is a compromise between similar legislation introduced in the  House and Senate last year; the House had passed its version in May.

“There are approximately 425,000 children growing up in foster care across the country,” said Youth Villages CEO Patrick W. Lawler, in a statement following the House vote.  “We believe that more than half of them can go home if the right intensive services are provided for their families.”

The act "will allow more hard-pressed states to use these federal funds to bring change to their child welfare systems,” said Lawler, whose organization provides community child welfare services as well as residential programs.

The current version of the legislation includes the House’s mandate to limit the waiver period to five years (2012 through 2016), and the Senate’s position to require waiver states to choose specific improvements in their plan.

The list of specified improvements includes development of a plan to ensure mental health care for children in foster care, a protocol for promoting educational stability, and procedures for protecting foster care children from inappropriate use of psychotropic medications

Waivers from the IV-E structure – granted by the Department of Health and Human Services to some state systems, including the Florida Department of Children and Families – have enabled agencies to use federal dollars to focus on helping keep more families together and to lower the number of children placed into foster care.