GM 15-067

Family Stability and Kinship Care Act Would Refocus Federal Foster Care Program

On August 5, 2015, Senator Wyden (D-OR) introduced S 1964, the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act, which, if enacted, would represent a major shift in the Nation’s foster care system. The bill would amend Title IV-E of the Social Security Act to re-focus the current federal foster care system from one which provides resources once a child is removed from the home to one that would allow tribes and states to provide a wide array of services designed to keep the family intact. It would also significantly increase the mandatory funding for the Social Security Act’s Title IV-B Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program, of which tribes receive a three percent funding allocation. S 1964 was referred to the Finance Committee, of which Senator Wyden is the Ranking Member.

Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance. The Title IV-E program is an open-ended entitlement program which provides services once a child has been removed from the home. Current federal funding is approximately $7 billion per year. Funding is provided for things such as foster home maintenance payments, administrative costs, training, recruitment of foster parents, adoption assistance, and data collection. In some instances, support can be provided for kinship care. Some states and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe have Title IV-E waivers that allow them some flexibility in the utilization of these funds. This bill would expand on that experience.

Only since 2010 have tribes been eligible to directly administer this program. Thus far a handful of tribes are operating the program, and there are others who are on course to do so. There are currently 98 tribal-state IV-E agreements, with the state being the lead grantee. Title IV-E services have an income requirement (although it is being phased out for adoption services).

Among the Title IV-E changes that S 1964 would make:

Title IV-E Time-Limited Family Preservation Services. The bill would allow states and tribes to provide a wide array of time-limited (12 months) services designed to help families whose children may be vulnerable to being placed in foster care and also to help families whose children have been in foster care but have returned home. Such services would also be available to adoptive families and to kinship care givers.

The income requirements for the current Title IV-E program would not apply to the time-limited services. Funding would be at the state’s or tribe’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) rate and would cover half of the eligible expenses for administration and training. With regard to tribes operating the IV-E program, the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary would specify time-limited services in a manner consistent (to the extent practicable) with states and that are “adapted to the culture and context of the tribal communities served.” Examples of the expanded Title IV-E services are:

• Parenting and family skills training and parent education;
• Individual, group, and family counseling, mentoring, and therapy including intensive family preservation or reunification programs and trauma-informed care;
• Services to address barriers to family preservation and reunification, including mental health needs, domestic violence, substance abuse, and inadequate housing;
• Crisis assistance to stabilize families or facilitate kinship placement, such as transportation, clothing, utility and housing payments, child care, respite care and assistance connecting families with other community-based services.

Time-Limited Services Performance Measures. After three years states would be required to spend a certain portion of their time-limited services funds on evidence-based programs. After five years national performance measures for time-limited services would be put in place for states. The bill provides that the Secretary of HHS would establish specific performance measures for tribes who are providing the expanded time-limited services in a manner consistent (to the extent practicable) with the national standards allowing for “consideration of factors unique to the provision of such services by tribes, organizations, or consortia.”

Title IV-B, Subpart 2, Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program. The Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program is a much smaller program than Title IV-E. It is geared toward preventive services to avoid the break-up of families but is quite prescriptive with regard to state expenditure of funds, although tribes are able to use their modest IV-B funds in a more flexible manner. The program is currently funded from two pots of money – discretionary ($60 million) and capped mandatory ($340 million). Tribes receive a three percent funding allocation which was
$10.3 million (138 grantees) in FY 2014.

Under S 1964 the mandatory funding would be increased to $1 billion, a $655 million increase. Thus, tribal funds would increase substantially. Included in the increase is $10 million for research and technical assistance (a $4 million increase) and $33 million for court improvement services to assist courts in handling child welfare cases (a $3 million increase). Tribes receive $1 million annually in court improvement funds.

Compliance. Finally, the bill would give the Secretary of HHS discretion to allow tribes, tribal organizations and tribal consortia administering Title IV-E and B programs additional time to come into compliance with requirements of the bill before being considered out of compliance.

The National Indian Child Welfare Association worked with Senator Wyden on this bill and they and the National Congress of American Indians have endorsed the legislation.

Please let us know if we may provide additional information regarding S 1964, the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act.