Texas Legislative Bill Brings Foster Care Immunization Questions to Light

Foster care immunization has gained the spotlight in Texas recently as the state attempts to reform its foster care system. The Texas child welfare system has been under fire since 2015, when a Corpus Christi judge delivered a 250-page ruling that declared that long-term foster care in the state was, as she put it, “broken.” The ruling came in the wake of 144 deaths of children in care between 2010 and 2014. According to the judge, this violates the 14th Amendment – the right to be free from, as the judge said, “rape, abuse, psychotropic medication and instability.” After receiving this criticism, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) of Texas began reform efforts, and House Bill 39 was introduced with a number of stipulations intended to keep children in foster care safe. Amidst the debate one hot-button issue has gained attention on the national stage: foster care immunization.

The legislature will have to determine where they stand on foster care immunization.

Immunization has been a controversial topic in the United States for years, with many groups across the country voicing opinions over the implementation of vaccines for children. Arguments tend to fall into two categories: “Are vaccines safe?” and “Should vaccines be mandatory?“ Proponents of immunization argue that vaccines are effective in preventing disease. They also have faith in major medical organizations like the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and others that verify the safety of vaccines. They believe that vaccines are the primary way to protect future generations from possible disease outbreaks. For those that believe vaccines are safe, the question of whether the government requires them is moot – if vaccines are good for society and protect future generations, a mandatory vaccine schedule is entirely reasonable and acceptable. For those who doubt the safety of vaccines, however, government-based immunization schedules (including a foster care immunization plan) represent a threat to their children’s well-being.
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“Grandma Underground”: Kentucky Parents Fight for Kinship Care Subsidy

2013 was a difficult year for the child welfare system in Kentucky as budget estimates failed to cover its growth and several funding cuts were made. Among these cuts was the kinship care subsidy, which helps kinship parents shoulder the additional cost of raising their relatives. Now, kinship parents across the state are coming together through what Kentucky grandparent Norma Hatfield calls the “Grandma Underground.”

Kinship parents receive funds thanks to the Fostering Connections Act.

Across the nation, kinship care has largely been considered the way forward in child welfare. As covered in our previous article, “Kinship Care in the United States: An Overview,” we explained how child welfare in the US is shifting to rely more and more heavily on kinship caregivers. This comes in the wake of studies and other evidence that life with relatives provides fewer disruptions and more positive outcomes for children in care. To ensure fewer disruptions, kinship programs employ what is known as “presumptive eligibility” – that is, the state presumes that a relative caregiver is eligible to be a foster parent and will place the child with them before the standard background checks and inspections are completed, with the understanding the caregiver in question complete such processes as soon as possible. Presumptive eligibility also allows kinship caregivers to receive the kinship care subsidy while being processed.
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#HackFosterCare: Taking Advantage of Technology in Foster Care

In May of 2016, the White House held a special “hackathon” for foster care as a part of the “#HackFosterCare” initiative. Hackathons are events in which problems are presented that the participants attempt to solve with programming solutions, and former foster youth and founder of Think Of Us Sixto Cancel embraced this idea as a way for communities to approach technology in foster care.

Coder working hard at developing new technology in foster care.

The child welfare system is large and, when including the sea of nonprofits and associated organizations, has many working parts. As the nation moves forward and attempts to ensure that the system serves its children as best as it can, the integration of technological solutions becomes a necessity. From social media to smartphones, foster parents, foster children, social workers and volunteers are constantly changing the technology they engage with and through. Because of the changing tides of tech, foster care organizations have a unique opportunity to re-investigate and resolve problems that crop up because of their own consistent evolution.

It’s this opportunity that Cancel hopes to seize by hosting foster care hackathons across the country.

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Kinship Care Trends Across the Nation

Widely regarded by child welfare professionals as the best placement option for foster children, kinship care has been on the rise in the United States. Collectively, child welfare agencies have been pushing for more kinship placements as reports show that outcomes improve for children placed into the care of relatives.   These kinship care trends are signs that our child welfare system is working.  From a legislative standpoint, however, the major breakthrough in kinship care came in the form of the Fostering Connections for Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (FCSIA, also known as the Fostering Connections Act).

kinshiptrends

Laying the Groundwork for Kinship Care Trends

Passed in 2008, this bill paved the way for kinship care throughout the nation. Although “kinship care” as a concept was introduced to the US child welfare system as early as 1978 (way it was vs way it is link), it wasn’t until 1990s that it was regulated and supported by federal funds, becoming endorsed by the federal government as a specific program within foster care. At that time, more than 75% of the children in kinship care were in private or unlicensed homes.

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Kinship in Crisis: Kinship Waiver Issues

On September 6th, 2016, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced that the state was placing a record number of children in care with relatives.  This form of foster care, in which children are placed with direct relatives or close family friends and often relies on a special kinship waiver, is known as kinship care.

 
Kinship Waiver Issues
Of kinship care, Governor Malloy said:

“We know that the trauma children experience from being removed from their home is significantly diminished if the child lives with someone they know and love – a family member or another person with an established connection. We are building a system for the future and this is another milestone in that effort.”

This system for the future is already making great progress.  At the time of his announcement, Governor Malloy boasted that 42% of all placements in the state were kinship placements, the highest level the state ever achieved and close to double the amount of such placements compared to five years ago.  In a world where kinship is rapidly becoming the new gold standard for child welfare, these numbers represent tremendous progress in helping minimize the trauma associated with entering the foster care system. Continue reading

Foster Success Spotlight: Cleo Bell

When engaged with the child welfare system, one tends to focus on the negative – the drug-addicted mother, the negligent parent or the unexpected family tragedy that often sends children into foster care.  Despite the difficult emotions that come with these situations, it must be remembered that the foster care system is intended as a place of hope, opportunity and growth for these young lives.   This quarter, the Foster Success Spotlight falls on Cleo Bell.

Cleo Bell, star of the Foster Success Spotlight

Cleo Bell before accepting her award at the FAFS Recognition brunch.


A freshman at Chestnut Hill College, Cleo stands as a shining example of success in the wake of tragedy.

Her biological mother passed an addiction to crack cocaine to newborn Cleo, who was hospitalized for the first eight weeks of her life as a result.  Thanks to Cleo’s maternal grandmother, her eventual adoptive mother, June, was informed of Cleo’s birth and circumstances.  June jumped at this opportunity to care for Cleo. Continue reading