Casey Family Foundation

Casey Family Foundation 

Phoenix, Arizona

February 24, 2012

I am very grateful to Casey Family Programs for helping to organize this meeting and for their efforts around the country to make sure that states and counties have the best available information. 

When I was in Florida, Casey Family Programs were a full partner in our reforms.  Now that I am in Washington, I deeply appreciate their continued and broader partnership.

There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.”

I’ve come to deeply understand the wisdom of those words.

And I believe that all of us have an obligation to leave the mark of “permanency, safety and well-being” on lives of the vulnerable children in our care. 

We can’t just pick one of the above three criteria and say we’ve succeeded.

For example, we know how to keep kids safe—we can lock them in a building and give them three hots and a cot—but they will age out of care completely ill-equipped to function in the world.

I have to say that the most important lessons I’ve learned about what kids need have been from young people who were in foster care or who had aged out of care.

These kids can tell us in the most graphic and heartfelt ways about the marks that the system made on their lives and what desperately needs changing.

Their observations and insights touched me. 

Their life experiences reaffirmed my belief that a strong and well-functioning child welfare system is absolutely essential if we are to be successful in overcoming the social ills that plague this country.

And it is essential to achieving a society in which everybody has a fair shot at success, even kids who already have a strike or two against them. 

The good news is that there’s evidence that things are getting better and that we’ve made some significant improvements for kids.

For example, in the last fourteen years, the foster care caseload shrank 25%--from 559,000 to a little over 400,000.

A declining caseload has generally been the pattern in this Region as well.  Every state except Arizona has fewer kids in care than they had in 2006, some, like Hawaii, have seen dramatic decreases.

Some of that improvement is because fewer kids are coming in the front door of the system.  When we’re talking about child welfare, an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.

But there’s a catch 22 built in to the system—a catch that counterproductively rewards failure.

The problem is that under existing federal law, if a state or county safely reduces out-of-home care—which is obviously what we want--then federal funding goes down.

The IV-E waivers that we’ve been granting for years can change that downward funding spiral.

Arizona has had experience with this—you had a waiver from 2006 – 2008.

Under the waivers, if out-of-home caseloads and costs lessen, the state retains federal funding.  That money can be invested to help children while they stay at home, or reunification, or for services to help children move more quickly towards permanency if reunification is not realistic. 

The waivers reward achievement, not failure.  We acknowledge that different jurisdictions have different requirements, and that flexibility and local determination are virtues.

I speak from my experience in Florida.

The waiver allowed us to safely reduce the number of children in out-of-home care by 37 percent. That’s 10,000 fewer children who are in permanent homes instead of state care.

The waiver also let us provides services to the whole family, not just the child.  So it took less time to reunify the family and fewer children came back into care.

Understand though-- the waiver is not a panacea.

It must be combined with well-informed leadership and a willingness to do things in a new and better way.

Implemented correctly, it is a powerful tool that can make positive reform in child welfare more likely to happen and more likely to have the desired result.

Waivers offer the opportunity to provide an array of flexible approaches, such as:

Intensive in-home services,

Integration of substance abuse, mental health and domestic violence treatment into child welfare

Using foster parents as mentors to biological parents, toward the goal of eventual reunification and

Intensively recruiting and training potential foster parents.

When you provide more effective prevention and intervention services like these, more children who can safely remain in the home have the stability of being with their family.  But they will still get oversight and intervention to help make sure that home is a safe place.

When you provide more effective reunification services, families that are capable of caring for their children have the support they need to get their kids back.

When you safely reduce the amount of out of home care, you can focus on improving the quality of the foster homes for the children who really must be in care.

Quality Parenting Initiatives (might want to mention Carole Shauffer’s program,) and other programs to support our foster parents become more achievable.

You can also more effectively link the needs of children with the array of placement options. 

I’m thinking of a great program in Florida called the Susan B. Anthony Recover Center.

This is a residential treatment center where women can keep their children with them while getting treatment to live clean and sober.

There’s a double benefit: the moms get the care they need and still keep their children with them.

When you safely reduce out-of-home care, you can also more effectively focus on achieving permanency.

However, the sad fact is that some children are not going to be reunified.

Those children deserve a permanent family too.  We must do everything possible to speed the day that they are adopted.

I do not believe that any child is too old for adoption.  I know 17 year olds that have gotten adopted after spending their lives in care.  The adoption happened because someone refused to give up – and I hope each of you will join me in making a commitment to never give up on our children.

Several states in this region have made great use of the waiver over the past several years.

I’m eager to hear about your experiences.

Still, I know some of you have concerns about pursuing a waiver.  Some people fear that waivers will undermine the entitlement of children to IV-E funds.

I can assure you that it will not.

Congress was concerned about this also and put a specific restriction in law.  The Secretary of HHS has broad authority to waive provisions of Title IV-B or Title IV-E, but the Secretary cannot do anything to reduce entitlement under IV-E.

I assure you that the Secretary, Bryan, and I are committed to maintaining the entitlement nature of Title IV-E. 

Soon we will announce the opportunity for states to apply for waivers.

I hope you will think seriously about the whether your county should apply.

Bryan will give you more detail about the 10 program improvement policies available to you under the waiver.  You only have to choose two, but I urge you to recognize that the more of these policies you factor into your plan, the more effective the waiver will be.

I realize that every county has different needs—that’s the beauty of the waiver—it’s not a one size fits all solution.  So I urge you to consider how it could work best for the children you serve.

There’s much more that I could talk about, but I want to leave plenty of time for Bryan and for questions and comments.

I’m interested in hearing your perspective on these issues; I really believe that we will make the most progress on behalf of children and families if we listen to each other.   The best guidance we can get comes from people like you who advocate fiercely for children.

We need your wisdom.  The more we know about your point of view, the richer the discussion.  Let us know where you stand and how you see us getting there.  Together, we will come closer to the goal of a good home and a good life for every child.

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