Smarter investments keep children safe: The Child and Family Services Improvement Act expanded the authority to grant waivers to provisions of Title IV-E

In the years since Congress approved the 2012 Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act, nearly half the states across America can now take advantage of the provisions to make smart, effective investments that hold the promise of transforming the lives of thousands of at-risk children and their families.

Thanks to bipartisan support, this legislation has set the stage for important and meaningful improvements to child welfare in America. Casey Family Programs has long considered this legislation to be a critical step toward a comprehensive reform of the federal child welfare financing system.

Members of Congress and state child welfare leaders have provided leadership and inspiration that will continue to be important for building on the promise of this legislation and ushering in a new era of hope and opportunity for at-risk children and families.

As the nation’s largest operating foundation focused on safely reducing the need for foster care and building hope for children and families, Casey Family Programs is committed to partnering with federal and state policymakers and child welfare leaders to fulfill the law’s promise.

In 2012, the report “A Cause for Hope” provided an overview of the initial implementation of this landmark legislation. This new report will cover the substantial work that has taken place in states to begin to implement promising practices under the legislation.

The Opportunity for Reform

The Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act reauthorized and expanded an existing authority to grant waivers to provisions of Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. Title IV-E provides more than $7 billion a year to support state child welfare programs.

Currently, the bulk of Title IV-E funding can only be spent by states on foster-care-related services after a child has suffered abuse or neglect. Unfortunately, targeting only one response to maltreatment — foster care — limits the ability of states to invest in smarter, more proactive programs that can better prevent or effectively respond to abuse and neglect and keep children safe.

In addition, states that are successful in safely reducing the need for foster care are not able to reinvest those federal foster care dollars in programs that can help more children grow up in safe, stable and permanent families.

There is an urgent need for a comprehensive financing reform of the child welfare system to address this situation. Implementation and adoption of Title IV-E waivers under the Child and Family Services Innovation and Improvement Act provide important, real-time information that is needed to shape a comprehensive approach to reform.

Lessons learned from waivers demonstrate how dollars can be invested in the kind of evidence-based and evidence-informed practices that improve outcomes for children and families.

An Appetite for Reform

The strong response of states to waiver opportunities demonstrates how serious communities are about the need for making finance reform comprehensive and permanent.

Since waivers were reauthorized, 16 states and the District of Columbia have applied for and received new title IV-E waivers. This is in addition to the five states that have extended existing waivers granted under a previous authority. Taken together, there are 21 states plus the District of Columbia that are taking part in this important demonstration project.

The federal government has authority to grant an additional 10 waivers in 2014, and based upon the interest expressed by additional states, we anticipate that all these new slots will be filled.

It is highly likely that by next year, more than half of the states in America will be working on programs that directly demonstrate how a comprehensive reform of federal child welfare financing can improve outcomes for children and families.

Profiles of Progress

States taking part in the demonstration waivers represent a broad cross section of America. Programs spurred by the waivers will help change lives in rural, urban and suburban communities. They will be implemented in large, state-operated child welfare systems and in smaller, county-based systems.

Many of the states have already shown progress in safely reducing the need for foster care, including declining numbers of children entering out-of-home care and increasing percentages of children leaving foster care to return to a permanent family.

Of the states taking part so far, 12 have state-operated child welfare systems. Five have county-operated systems supervised by the state. Ten states have opted to implement their waivers statewide, while seven have decided initially to implement their waivers in select counties or geographical areas. Fifteen states have chosen to operate a capped allocation waiver that maximizes their ability to make smart, effective investments.

The balance between federal and local funding for child welfare systems varies across the 21 states and District of Columbia that have received waiver authority over three years. Prior to the waivers, overall child welfare funding increased for six of these states; eight states had experienced decreases; and two states saw little change. Fourteen of the states received 40 percent or more of their child welfare funding from a federal source, while three states received less than 40 percent from federal funding.

Change in Action

The demonstration projects approved so far will target improvements to children of all ages. However, four of the states will focus especially on children ages zero to 5.

Looking across these 17 jurisdictions, a number of the states identified similar assessment tools that they would utilize or test as part of their waiver. Differential or alternative response was identified for multiple states, as was intensive in-home support services. Nearly all states identified the use of trauma-informed assessments as part of their service design, and a number of states identified a plan to work directly with or leverage Medicaid resources as part of their waiver services strategies.

As part of the legislation, states were also required to identify existing and new policy initiatives to improve outcomes for children and families. The most commonly identified policies established specific programs to prevent foster care entry. They provided permanency, reconnection with biological family members, development of guardian assistance programs, increased attention to the health and mental health needs of youth in care, and adoption of a foster care bill of rights.

Early Results

While most states are just beginning to implement these waivers, there is much to learn from the states’ collective voice on the need for finance reform and how the federal government undertakes these changes. One lesson that is already clear is that states are taking varied and unique approaches to improvement depending on their local environment and organizational culture. Any reform package will need to acknowledge and address these localized approaches in states to be effective in accomplishing federal finance reform. Ultimately, waivers will continue to offer real-time lessons learned around what is working and what is not, and can help pave the way to permanent reform that better serves our children and families.

The focus in Washington provides a strong example of the types of interventions that many of the waivers have made possible. They address needs prior to children coming into care, and they provide interventions that Title IV-E funding does not normally support to strengthen permanency placements after care. The focus of these interventions is to test evidence-based or evidence-informed practice on a larger scale, generating real-time information on how funding can be provided to yield better permanency and well-being outcomes for children and families in the child welfare system. The 2012 waiver states are just beginning their implementation of new programs or their expansion of existing programs in these key areas. We believe we will soon be able to provide real-time early learning on states’ actual experiences to further inform finance reform.

But one lesson is already crystal clear: Keeping children safe and families strong takes continued leadership at the local, state and federal level. That’s why Casey Family Programs is dedicated to building Communities of Hope, places where all of our resources — public, private and faith-based — are engaged to help our children grow up in loving, stable homes with the support of the entire community.

Our children cannot wait. Every day, more than 2,000 children are confirmed as victims of abuse or neglect. More than 800 are removed from their families. About 400,000 children slept in a foster care bed last night.

Those numbers must inspire us to improve the lives of our most vulnerable citizens — children — by continuing to push for meaningful innovations, improvements and child welfare financing reform.

A Closer Look: Washington

The Family Assessment Response waiver demonstration is developing and implementing a differential response pathway for screened-in allegations of abuse and neglect as an alternative to traditional Child Protective Services investigations. The program is intended for families who are identified as low to moderate risk and who — with services and supports — are able to keep their children safely in the home. Key program elements include a comprehensive assessment of the child’s safety, health and well-being, as well as identification of any barriers the family faces in keeping the child safely at home; concrete support and voluntary services, such as housing vouchers, food, clothing, utility assistance, mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment, and medical and dental care; and links to an expanded array of evidence-based programs and services that promote family stability and preservation, such as Homebuilders, Functional Family Therapy, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, Project SafeCare, and The Incredible Years.