Foster youth age out of a broken system, oftentimes into a life touched by homelessness, human trafficking, incarceration, and mental illness. For generations, policy makers and child welfare specialists have focused on addressing symptoms of the problems rather than root causes. Now’s the time to end this cycle and truly transform the system.
President Biden’s Proposals to Reform Foster Care; Spur Systems Change
One in seventeen children in the United States will experience foster care at some point by the time they turn eighteen. At any given time, more than 400,000 children and youth are in the foster care system. Their outcomes and life experiences are far worse than their peers.
In 2022, the Biden Administration proposed a series of ambitious reforms in his proposed budget. If enacted, these reforms could fundamentally transform the child welfare system and improve outcomes for those young people in foster care.
The $10 billion in new federal funding over ten years would provide significant investments in:
‘Kinship care’ refers to a child being raised by people they already know and trust, like relatives or close family friends. Research shows that children who are placed with kin have substantially better outcomes and better experiences within the system than those placed with non-kin or in institutions. Still, only about 30% of children in foster care are placed with kin and those who do often receive far less support than non-kin caregivers.
The President’s budget makes big investments in kinship care by increasing the rate at which the federal government reimburses states for kinship care, by expanding the adoption tax credit to more kin caregivers, and by opening up new funding for kinship support services and kinship navigator programs. Together, these proposals would help more children grow up with people they know and trust who are adequately supported to care for them.
The vast majority of parents who end up involved with the foster care system deeply love their children and want what is best for them but simply don’t have what they need. In many cases, children can thrive safely at home with their families if we provide them with resources, services, and support. Still, only 13% of federal child welfare funding is spent on services to support families and prevent them from entering care. In 2018, Congress created the Title IV-E Prevention Program, which allows more federal funds to pay for these services, but building new programs is expensive and uptake has been slow.
The budget proposes a massive increase in the share of the Title IV-E Prevention Program that is paid for by the federal government, including up to 100% for several years, so states can invest in building up their ability to offer these services. The proposal would increase federal spending on prevention by $4.9 billion over ten years.
Older youth in the foster care system have unique needs as they prepare to transition to adulthood. In 1999, Congress created the John H. Chafee Foster Care for Successful Transition to Adulthood, which offers services and support for youth aged fourteen to twenty one (or twenty three in some states) to help them prepare for success in school, work, and life. Funding for the program is dramatically insufficient to meet the needs of young people, leading to poor outcomes for young people as they leave the system.
The budget proposes increasing funding for the Chafee program by $1 billion over ten years and offers new flexibilities for the program to make more young people eligible for services and to expand the variety and amount of services available.
The budget also proposes a number of investments in ensuring that child welfare agencies have the resources and infrastructure they need to run well. This includes a $3 billion investment over ten years in the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families program, which provides flexible funding to states to prevent unnecessary separation of children from their families, improve the quality of care and services for children and their families, and help ensure children end up in permanent homes. It also funds Regional Partnership Grants, which help support children whose parents suffer from substance use disorders, as well as the Court Improvement Program. President Biden also proposes creating a new program that would fund legal representation for families in civil matters, like housing or employment.
The budget also proposes $100 million in funding for grants to address racial inequity in child welfare, new non-discrimination policies for federally-funded programs, and several other provisions designed to build a more functional, equitable system.