Family Preservation Policies and Child Abuse Policy Analysis
Excerpt from Policy Analysis :
Child welfare services have a complicated history in America and still today face a continual crisis. On the one hand, foster care requires resources from the state and breaks up families; on the other hand, implementing family preservation plans carries its own risk. This policy reform paper will examine the problem presented by The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), enacted as part of Public Law (P.L.) 115–123, also known as the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. It will then provide analysis of the problem from the standpoint of historical, social, economic, and political perspectives. It will then examine the policy, evaluate it and discuss current proposals for reform.
It is recognized that removing children from their families and placing them in foster group home services can be psychologically and emotionally damaging for the child (Ringel et al., 2018). However, leaving children in families where abuse is occurring or where parents are suffering from addiction can also lead to problems. The issue presented by the FFPSA is that it diverts funds away from foster group home services to family preservation services, which on the surface looks like a positive idea: after all, if families can stay together and work out their issues, there will be less need for foster group home care. However, even 12 months of care in a family preservation program might not be enough to give parents the support, counseling and assistance they need to be able to provide a safe and secure environment for their children (Patwardhan, Hurley, Thompson, Mason & Ringle, 2017). That means that funds that have been diverted to the family preservation program will have been used for naught, as the child ends up having to be removed anyway for his own protection and now there are fewer funds available for foster group home services, where the child will be placed.
Family preservation policy might preserve the family, but it does not necessarily preserve the safety of the child and by allocating finite resources to such a policy initiative as seen in the FFPSA, it makes it all the harder for social workers and the foster care system in general to address pre-existing challenges that still remain even after this new initiative is taken up, regardless of the good intentions behind it. That is the main problem with the policy. How to balance the needs of families that can potentially be preserved with the needs of foster group home services that will still continue on is the ultimate issue.
Child protective services have always had a controversial history going back to the 19th century in the US. Starting with the orphan trains organized by Rev. Charles Loring Brace, children who were in danger of being lost to the streets were taken up and sent westward ostensibly to be placed with a family where they could learn a trade and learn to take care of themselves as adults (O’Connor, 2001). The orphan trains largely sent city children from New York into the surrounding suburbs, but some of them ended up in the Midwest, working for people who exploited them for labor (O’Connor, 2001). Thus, in some cases the cure was as bad if not worse than the disease. The orphan trains continued for decades until the 1930s. After that period, foster group homes or orphanages became a norm in the US, typically run by religious organizations. However, as state regulations became more standardized in the latter half of the 20th century, these institutions began to change and foster group homes operated by the state and dependent upon state funds became the last refuge for children without anywhere else to go. Because most adoptive parents want to adopt a new baby, young children placed in foster group homes often spend their entire childhoods growing up in foster group care if they are unable to return to their own families. These children age out of foster group care and essentially enter into adulthood to fend for themselves, most of them having never learned the basic skills of survival and many of them dealing with their own addiction issues (Mallon & McHartt-Hess, 2013). Foster group care is obviously not the best solution to the problem of child welfare but it is often the only solution. Diverting funds away from foster group services can turn a bad situation into an even worse one.
Obviously it is important for families to be preserved if at all possible. In some cases, families may be unaware that they are being abusive to children and all that is required is education for the parents. In other situations the parents may be overwhelmed and may lack a support system. Social workers can sometimes help and family preservation programs might provide the support required. However, in other cases, parents are dealing with substance abuse issues or mental health problems and these cannot be fixed in a short amount of time so as to ensure a safe environment for the child. Thus, realistically speaking, not every family is going to be one that can be preserved. This has to be acknowledged up front so that the issue of how best to provide for the child can be addressed. If the child’s best chances for safety and security are in foster group care services, then resources should be made available to these services to ensure that the child gets the education he needs to be able to age out of foster group services if necessary, continue his schooling in college, obtain gainful employment and housing on his own and have a stable life.
With this FFPSA, one can see that social injustice issues can continue to be an issue, in spite of the fact that the policy does focus on prevention. In short, it is not a completely successful policy because there are gaps that go unaccounted for—such as what happens to group care services? Just as the orphan trains…
[…… parts of this paper are missing, click here to view or download the entire document ]
…are limits to family preservation policy, but it is a good policy to pursue in hope and justice for the sake of all considered.
The FFPSA does not stand up to the test of whether the ultimate good is being served by the policy. Instead, it stands up as a policy mainly because it provides the kind of political window dressing so much in favor today: politicians want to feel good about keeping families together. They are not paying attention to the realities of the situation, however. Foster group homes are necessary because they are the last refuge of children who are not safe in their biological families. Family preservation services cannot fix every domestic situation—that is a given and thus there should be a risk mitigation strategy in place. Instead, the funds that should be going to support foster group homes will now be going to support family preservation services that are unlikely to be efficacious. Children will likely still end up needing to be removed and they will be put in conditions likely to rival the environment they were pulled out of in terms of poverty and lack of adequate care. The state cannot give what it does not have, and if what it does have is given to families that will never make good on the investment the outcome could be disastrous for all stakeholders.
Current Proposals for Reform
The current proposal for reform means well, and the idea of keeping families together is an optimistic one. The reality is that it is not going to be as easy or as effective as the optimistic supporters of the reform believe. Thus, the proposal here is that if funds are going to be used to support the FFPSA they not be diverted away from foster group homes. Instead, those funds should come from somewhere else in the budget. Wherever the money to support family preservation comes from, funding must not be cut for foster group care. Foster group homes are the last refuge, and if they go children will literally end up on the streets.
Thus, it is imperative that policy makers and legislators realize the risk that they run when the draft and pass idealistic policies. The policies may have great optics, but they can have terrible outcomes in reality. The funding for foster care should, if anything, be increased—because the situation with foster group homes is already not great. Taking funding away would only make it worse, and if anything more is needed to improve care for children who group up in and age out of foster group homes. They are, unfortunately, being ignored by the utopian planners behind the FFPSA.
Risk mitigation must be conducted, and funds shored up for foster group care even as funds are found from other sources for family preservation. The FFPSA is a policy that looks out for families in theory. In practice, family preservation’s success is limited. Foster group home funding…
Sources Used in Documents:
Behrmann, S. (2019). Former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says she left post because 'saying no' wasn't enough. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/10/22/kirstjen-nielsen-former-dhs-secretary-said-she-left-post-because-saying-no-wasnt-enough/2450196001/
Definitive Contract. (2016). Retrieved from https://govtribe.com/award/federal-contract-award/definitive-contract-hsfe3013c0366
Mallon, G., McHartt-Hess, P. (2013). Child Welfare in the 21st Century. 2nd Edition.Columbia University Press.
O’Connor, S. (2001). Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Patwardhan, I., Hurley, K. D., Thompson, R. W., Mason, W. A., & Ringle, J. L. (2017). Child maltreatment as a function of cumulative family risk: Findings from the intensive family preservation program. Child Abuse & Neglect, 70, 92-99.
Reid, P. (2019). DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks for first time since resignation announcement. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/kirstjen-nielsen-resigning-dhs-secretary-expected-to-offer-resignation-today-live-updates-2019-04-07/
Ringel, J. S., Schultz, D., Mendelsohn, J., Holliday, S. B., Sieck, K., Edochie, I., & Davis, L. (2018). Improving child welfare outcomes: balancing investments in prevention and treatment. Rand health quarterly, 7(4).
Wiltz, T. (2018). This New Federal Law Will Change Foster Care As We Know It. Retrieved from https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/05/02/this-new-federal-law-will-change-foster-care-as-we-know-it
Cite This Policy Analysis: