Welcome to News From Our Heart! This newsletter is published by Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS). FAFS’ mission is to provide advocacy and enriching programs and services to empower families and youth to thrive. We hope that you will find this information to be both interesting and informative. To learn more about FAFS, please visit www.fafsonline.org. Have questions or comments? Contact Us
Under the Trump Administration, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has rewritten child welfare data collection rules to limit the amount of information gathered about LGBTQI youth. The reductions to LGBTQI data points occur in compliance with the The Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions — or the regulatory reform agenda — meant to cut spending on regulatory burdens.
One third of teens in foster care identify as LGBTQI, but only eleven percent of the general population identifies as such. As we previously cited, Stephen Wilson, the author of the report on these findings, (summarized in Reuters) told The Daily Texan that he wants to know if the high rate of LGTBQI youth results from increased rates of removal from their families of origin, from less success achieving permanent placements because of their identity, or some combination of these factors.
Data points proposed under the Obama Administration were cut down from 272 to 183, maintaining only one question concerning LGBTQI status: whether a child’s sexual identity caused conflict that led to their placement in care.
Data points are important because they allow lawmakers to understand the needs of a population. For example, more extensive LGBTQI data points could allow policy makers to better understand the need to educate foster parents about LGBTQI youth and could cause funding to be allocated to this type of education.
Where to Cut Costs?
Data regulation can be costly. Workers must be paid to collect and process information and when this information is multiplied by the thousands, the time adds up.
A primary purpose of the data cuts is to reduce costs. The regulatory reform agenda explains, “It is important that for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination, and that the cost of planned regulations be prudently managed and controlled through a budgeting process.”
To create more efficient means of data collection, Michigan has implemented the Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS). Their website explains that SACWIS is “designed to support foster care and adoption assistance case management practice through a comprehensive and automated case management tool” and this system supports AFCARS data collection. Digital data collection systems like SACWIS may be a way to reduce current data costs.
Costs of foster care add up in other places besides data collection. It is widely accepted that youth in the foster care system experience childhood maltreatment. According to an article published in the Journal of Child Abuse & Neglect in 2012, “The estimated average lifetime cost per victim of nonfatal child maltreatment is $210,012 in 2010 dollars.” The overall cost of child maltreatment is thought to be about $585 billion dollars. This trauma may only be heightened for LGBTQI youth, who are three times more likely than heterosexual foster youth to have considered suicide.
While cutting data points may reduce costs in the short term, it doesn’t make a dent in the immense price of child maltreatment in the US, a burden which could be reduced by collecting information on the foster youth population to determine where changes in the system should be made.
LGBTQI Discrimination Laws
Data cuts are also justified by a concern about confidentiality. Data points are recorded in foster youth’s virtual files. Since future caregivers may see this information, youth may be less likely to self-report their LGBTQI status, fearing that it could impact their placements. This may have been the case for foster youth like Terrance Scraggins, who entered foster care in Idaho when he was 12 years old.
Terrance would see “well more than twenty placements” during his six years in care, according to an article in the Chronicle of Social Change. Terrance is gay, but he felt he was treated differently even before he explicitly identified that way, like when he was told he could not lay under a blanket with a male friend at a sleepover due to a foster parent’s “hunch.” Terrance wishes he had access to a support system during his time in care:
My quality of life within the child welfare system would have been drastically more positive had there been individuals whom I could turn to during times of need. To feel support, rather than ridicule and judgment would have made all the difference in my development as a teenager.
LGBTQI data points are especially important in the current climate surrounding faith-based organizations’ foster care placement practices. On April 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Catholic Social Services of the Philadelphia Archdiocese (CSS) would no longer be allowed to place foster children in homes due to CSS’s refusal to place children with same-sex couples.
In March, the state of Michigan made a similar ruling, concluding that they would no longer allocate taxpayer dollars to assist faith-based organizations that discriminate against same-sex couples.
Currently, five states and Washington D.C. prohibit discrimination of foster parents based on sexual orientation or gender identity (New York, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Michigan), while four states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation alone (Massachusetts, Maryland, Wisconsin, Oregon).
The remaining 41 states are silent on matters concerning foster parents’ sexual orientation and gender identity. Furthermore, 13 states fail to maintain policy-banning discrimination against LGBTQI youth in care.
While states handle these matters differently, there are no federal policies currently that encourage inclusive training on the population’s needs.
New Jersey’s LGBTQI Laws
According to a report by Family Equality, if New Jersey were to ban gay and lesbians from being foster parents, it would cost the state between approximately $4.4 and $6.6 million dollars per year. Therefore, New Jersey saves money by urging LGBTQI individuals to foster.
Like Michigan, New Jersey uses an automated case management system, (New Jersey Statewide Protective Investigation, Reporting and Information Tool, or NJSPIRIT) to comply with data collection and reduce regulatory burden.
Furthermore, New Jersey organizations like embrella and Garden State Equality are equipped to provide information and training to resource parents concerning their foster youth’s sexual identity. embrella has a specific training on understanding LGTBQI youth available to licensed resource parents in New Jersey.
Many organizations that provide support and education for LGBTQI foster youth rely on funding that they receive because of data. Without LGBTQI data points it will be difficult for organizations to know what populations need assistance and for states to determine the necessity of funding. According to Terrance Scraggins, this support is key:
Had I been placed with families who identified LGBTQ or were allies of the community, my development and confidence level would have been significantly higher. None of my foster parents had education or training on how to support me during the discovery of my sexuality.
The United States federal government has had a complicated relationship with Native American tribes; when it comes to foster care, that relationship can become even more strained.Continue reading
For more than 50 years, Sesame Street has been the home of a very diverse population. From a childlike red monster, a friendly yellow bird and a green grouch to people of all ages, colors and occupations, the classic TV show makes a concerted effort to depict everyone being treated with compassion and respect. This year, there’s a new neighbor on Sesame Street – Elmo’s friend Karli, a Muppet who is also a foster child.Continue reading
A major milestone has been crossed in the implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA). States have been informed of the model licensing standards for foster parents and they must begin developing nationally-compliant licensing regulations in their own child welfare systems.Continue reading
All around the globe, peer support meetings are being held to help individuals through a variety of unique challenges and situations. Whether it’s recently bereaved parents talking through grief or veterans discussing their PTSD, peer groups can be found nearly everywhere because they’ve been proven to be emotionally and psychologically beneficial.
Foster parent support groups are no different.
Peer support is based on the principle that individuals who have faced and overcome adversity can offer useful information, encouragement and mentorship to others facing similar situations. A veteran who has come back from a war and assimilated back to civilian life will, in most cases, have a better understanding of what a soldier who just returned home is going through than someone without that distinctive experience.
According to a May 2019 report from Mental Health America:
“Both quantitative and qualitative evidence indicate that peer support lowers the overall cost of mental health services by reducing re-hospitalization rates and days spent in inpatient services, increasing the use of outpatient services. Peer support improves quality of life, increases and improves engagement with services, and increases whole health and self-management.”
In the case of foster parents, who better to understand the complicated foster care system, the unique needs of the children and the emotional roller coaster of parenting them than those who have been through it themselves.
That’s why foster care agencies throughout the country hold meetings where former and current foster, adoptive and kinship parents can share their experiences and offer an understanding ear and comforting shoulder.
In St. Cloud, Minnesota, Family TIES (Training, Information, Encouragement and Support) held three separate meetings a month to help parents connect and support one another, according to the SC Times:
“It was kind of a dream of mine from the very beginning, that we would have a support system in place for people coming in, because of the challenges we found when we started and wanting to help those coming in to do foster care,” (veteran foster parent Deana) Hoeschen said.
At meetings, they visit, eat and sometimes get training on issues like fetal-alcohol syndrome and trauma-informed care.
They also discuss the practical: what to do about health insurance and how to navigate the paperwork.
“It can be a really big challenge … to be able to get questions answered in a timely manner,” Hoeschen said.
In New Jersey, embrella holds Connecting Families community based meetings for all open licensed resource homes in the state. These meetings, held in northern, central and southern locations, are opportunities for parents to not only share their stories but also to connect with others who have been through it before.
“There are many triumphs and challenges that come along with being a resource parent that may not always be understood by everyone, but a fellow resource parent understands,” embrella’s Director of Support Services Tara Rizzolo said.
The meetings are also a chance to take trainings, learn about essential services and build a support network.
“embrella’s Connecting Families activities provide a forum for resource families to share their experiences, form friendships and establish lifelong bonds,” Rizzolo continued. “The purpose of our meetings is to bring families together, so that they can connect with others and establish a network of support. This helps to strengthen who they are as parents and the care they provide for our children.”
If you’re a licensed resource parent with an open home in New Jersey, consider attending a nearby Connecting Families meeting.
If you’re outside of New Jersey, click here to find a support group near you.
The state of Oregon is under scrutiny for their treatment of youth in the child welfare system. One problem is Oregon’s continued reliance on congregate care facilities to house foster youth, even when these settings may not be appropriate.
Marking a national shift away from congregate care (group) homes The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFSPA) was approved in 2018 and will be implemented in October of 2019. This act functions under the understanding that for youth, prevention strategies and kinship care are less traumatic than being placed in traditional foster homes by implementing prevention strategies and support for kinship families.
In order to effectively implement the new laws, funds will be redirected from congregate care to prevention services. According to Casey Family Programs, congregate homes should be used to serve children with complex behavioral challenges, not to meet general placement needs. Of the approximately 437,000 children in foster care, about 53,000 reside in group facilities.
Allocating money for prevention is important but may cause difficulties for states that still rely heavily on congregate facilities.
Continued Congregate Care in Oregon
Oregon is one state that is struggling to move beyond congregate housing. After an audit and a lawsuit headed by the nonprofit A Better Childhood, the state has come under fire for their treatment of foster youth. According to Reuters, the lawsuit has been filed on behalf of ten youth in care whom Marcia Lowry, director of the organization behind the complaint, says have been revictimized during their time in the system.
Some individuals in the lawsuit lived in group home placements. After committing to stop housing youth in hotel rooms after a 2016 grievance, Oregon moved children into congregate care programs where they live in refurbished jail cells. The Youth Inspiration Program (YIP) in Klamath Falls houses adolescents in a repurposed wing of a functioning juvenile detention center.
A 16-year-old girl in the current lawsuit was confined to a cinder block cell at YIP and underwent daily therapy for sexual and substance abuse, neither of which she had ever experienced. An article by Sarah Zimmerman of the Associated Press explains that youth in these programs have been subject to strip searches, had little access to extracurricular activities and had limited contact with family members. Individuals with mild behavioral problems have ended up in programs like YIP even though these services are meant to house those with more severe physical and behavioral needs.
The state continues to rely on these facilities despite national efforts to move away from congregate care, and in February, Oregon governor Kate Brown requested a 12 million dollar increase in budget for YIP.
Oregon’s Systemic Problems
Oregon has a history of placing children in inappropriate housing, from refurbished jail cells and[hotel rooms to costly out of state facilities. The state says it is having difficulty finding family homes for youth and, according to the current audit, overburdened caseworkers, ineffective management and lack of resource parent retention are at fault.
Overwhelming workloads are part of the problem. “Our current caseloads are more than double and sometimes approaching triple of what they should be,” said caseworker Rosanne Scott. Child welfare workers are expected to interact with multiple entities in each case, and handling double or triple the recommended workload makes them unable to perform their duties. Caseworker Bridget Rayburn told Oregon Public Broadcasting, “Someone cries at their desk every day. Not because of trauma. Because they’re overwhelmed with work.”
Constrictive workloads will also make it difficult to prioritize prevention strategies outlined by the FFPSA. Caseworker Kelly Scott told Oregon Public Broadcasting that she would love to be able to focus on prevention, but “because of our severe and chronic under-staffing, we don’t have the ability to work with a family in any meaningful way unless they are coming in our door through a pretty serious concern.” Without the means to administer prevention services, more children are removed from their homes and placed into the flooded child welfare system. Oregon DHS says it would need to hire more than 1,000 child welfare workers to reduce caseloads significantly.
Furthermore, ineffective management creates a system that is “disorganized, inconsistent, and high risk for the children it serves,” according to the audit. The administration cultivates “a culture of blame and distrust” where workers are afraid to make mistakes. Auditor Jamie Ralls, who worked closely on the Oregon audit, explains, “There’s a culture there of being afraid if you do something wrong, your head’s going to roll.” Child welfare workers’ demanding daily activities may be amplified by this type of work environment.
Beyond overburdened caseworkers and chronic mismanagement, Oregon does not have an effective strategy for the recruitment and retention of foster parents. The audit explains that the agency “struggles to retain and support the foster homes it does have within its network.”
New Jersey Prevention
As a leader in child welfare, New Jersey has emphasized in-home prevention services since 2004. As of September 2018, 41,945 children benefited from the use of in-home prevention strategies. From 2004 to 2018, the amount of children in out-of-home placements was cut in half, from around 12,000 to 6,225 children, with half of youth in care being in state-funded kinship placements.
New Jersey also creates a network of support for their resource families. For example, embrella provides family advocates, mentoring programs and Connecting Families[meetings to maintain a supportive community during the difficult times in the life of a resource parent.
New Jersey’s foster care system has had its own issues in the past. Former New Jersey Foster Care Scholar Stephanie Ahenkora’s placement in a shelter at age 17 echoes stories of YIP – it was a transitional home for foster youth leaving the juvenile detention center across the street. For Stephanie, a 17-year-old without any behavioral problems, eating meals at the detention center and being around peers who had experienced jail time was isolating. However, a 1999 lawsuit filed against New Jersey spurred positive change in the foster care system.
The brighter future created in New Jersey is possible for other states as well. According to Marcia Lowry, “It is possible to fix these systems, it’s just a lot of work. This forces the state to pay attention to the plight of these children.”
To read the Oregon child welfare audit, click here
For more details on FFPSA click here