Dr. William C. Bell testimony: Making a Difference for Families and Foster Youth
Casey Family Programs President and CEO Dr. William C. Bell spoke about the need for continued work to transform the child protection system into one that supports child and family well-being.
“Families across this country are struggling with the overwhelming stress, setbacks and heartache caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated impact on our shared economic prosperity,” he said in testimony May 12, 2021, to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support.
“After decades of directing the vast majority of federal child welfare funding toward removing children from their homes, the historic passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 has focused critical resources on strengthening families through up-front prevention services and prioritizing children growing up in safe, nurturing family-based settings.
“Today’s hearing continues this life-changing progress for children by focusing on how we can best continue this critical work of transformation in child protection. … Strengthening families together, not breaking them apart, is key to helping families thrive and ensuring the safety of children.”
Dr. Bell’s remarks begin at 21:15 in the video and continue throughout in response to member questions.
Good morning Chairman Davis, Ranking Member Walorski and members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to join you today for this important conversation about protecting our children, strengthening their families and creating more supportive communities.
Casey Family Programs has spent the last 55 years working to bring hope and uninhibited opportunity to families across this nation regardless of the ZIP code or community where they live.
Families across this country are struggling with the overwhelming stress, setbacks and heartache caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated impact to our shared economic prosperity.
This Subcommittee has shown incredible leadership and vision in working to advance policies that will transform our nation’s child protection system. After decades of directing the vast majority of federal child welfare funding towards removing children from their homes, the historic passage of the Family First Prevention and Services Act of 2018 has focused critical resources on strengthening families through upfront prevention services and prioritizing children growing up in safe, nurturing family-based settings.
Today’s hearing continues this life changing progress for children by focusing on how we can best continue this critical work of transformation in child protection.
Before I provide my recommendations, I want to highlight three guiding tenets for keeping our children safe as you continue your work in this vital focus on child protection.
First, families are the foundation of every community, and every family should have the ability to thrive with the support of a caring community.
America’s child welfare system must have the flexibility and adaptability to meet the needs of families, even when an unexpected crisis or disaster, such as COVID-19, impacts our nation.
Second, our child protection system, while regarding safety as paramount in all its decision making, must value families and ensure appropriate services and supports are provided to them. All too often, encounters with the child welfare system result in unintentional harm and trauma for children and families. This is especially true for Black, Native American and Latinx families and children.
And then, third, foster care placements should be a temporary intervention for children at imminent risk of future harm and should only be used when absolutely necessary. Children thrive with their families, so we should ensure that children in foster care are with kinship caregivers. We also should work to safely reunify children with their parents in a timely way, and when that is not possible we should work towards timely permanency through other pathways including guardianship and adoption.
Since it became law in 2018, 12 states and one tribe received approval of their Family First Title IV-E prevention plans. An additional 12 states and two tribes have submitted Family First prevention plans and are awaiting approval.
My written testimony provides details on our recommendations for the Committee’s consideration based on our work directly with states, territories, and tribal nations. However, in the time I have remaining, I’d like to highlight just three of these recommendations.
- Number 1. Waiving the state match for prevention services in Family First was a bold step toward transformation. This type of work takes time to develop and implement, so we suggest considering extending this provision, through September of 2022. We also offer a similar recommendation to extend the waiver of the state match for kinship navigator programs through 2022, given the immense potential for these programs to provide much needed resources and supports to relative caregivers during this time of crisis.
- Number 2. As you look to reauthorize the important programs in Title IV-B, we ask that you look for opportunities to elevate and center the voice of those with direct experience in child welfare. Families are best equipped to identify what would be most helpful.
- And then, Number 3. The needs of tribal nations must be elevated in our discussions. Their access to child welfare funding has been historically limited, which continues to contribute to inequity and disparate outcomes for children and families.
We must create a world where all of our children have the chance to grow and thrive in safe and supportive environments – regardless of a child’s neighborhood or ZIP code. Strengthening families together – not breaking them apart - is key to helping families thrive and ensuring the safety of children.
I look forward to continuing to support the work of the Subcommittee, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.