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A Closer Look at the Current State of Child Welfare Funding

A Closer Look at the Current State of Child Welfare Funding

By Isabel Marcelletti 

Published 6/30

In the 2016 Fiscal Year, we had seen an appropriation of $8.689 billion for child welfare services which was 7.83% of the entire federal budget in 2016. Additionally, total spending on children’s programs have decreased by 5% in the last two years. Consider the breakdown: Title IV-B of the Social Security Act is allotted $668 million, Title IV-E is given $7.833 billion and $188 million is dedicated to other child welfare programming. A majority of federal dollars dedicated to child welfare purposes are given to state child welfare agencies where funds are contingent upon states coming up with between 20% to 50% of the program costs and abiding to a series of federal child welfare policies.

The Programs:

The main federal child welfare program is Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. This section of the country’s safety net is crucial for child welfare because it authorizes the Federal Foster Care System and maintains that funds are available for monthly maintenance payments for the daily care and supervision of eligible children, administrative costs to manage the program, the training of personnel, recruitment of foster parents, and implementation of a state-wise data collection system. Title IV-E has a mandatory element in which the funding for foster care is authorized on a permanent basis. On the other end, Title IV-E is an open- ended entitlement because it stipulates that a state or tribe is entitled to receive reimbursement for a particular share of every eligible program. To meet this requirement, Congress must authorize the funds and if the authorized amount is not enough to provide the reimbursement of the eligible programs, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must access additional funds to meet the commitment. The HHS is “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, Congressman Doggett pointedly said. Child advocates like Voice for Adoption are having a hard time accepting that the heart of child welfare includes open-ended entitlements where the pool of funds are continuously drained to pay last year’s bills. What will happen when HHS cannot access additional funds to reimburse eligible foster programs?

The complimentary federal program for foster youth is the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program which offers assistance to help current and former foster care youth achieve self-sufficiency. Funding is provided in the form of grants to states and tribes who submit a plan to assist youth in multiple areas that support a transition to adulthood. This is crucial for protecting our youth and supporting their unique needs. The funding is authorized as a permanent, capped entitlement for states and territories, only requiring that they are approved for Title IV-E. 

Title IV-B authorizes funding to states, territories, and tribes to support their provision of a wide range of child welfare services to children and their families. All states receive a base allotment of $70,000. The remaining appropriations are distributed based on population sizes of children, under 21, and more federal funding goes to states with lower per capita income. The rule of thumb is that each state must provide nonfederal resources equaling no less than 25% of all funds spent under this program.

The other child welfare programming that received $188 million is still very crucial. The Adoption Opportunities Program reduces barriers for families to adopt from foster care. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) improves child protective services and supports additional research to keep the most vulnerable children safer. Both programs are formula grant funding and must be appropriated each year. Additionally, Promoting Safe and Stable Families is a favored mechanism because it authorizes grant funding for services to prevent maltreatment in at-risk families, preserves intact families, and addresses problems of families who children have been placed in foster care to enable reunification, and to support adoptive families. This program looks to instill normalcy in a child’s life and to help them develop in one environment opposed to moving around, which too often foster care children do on a regular basis.

What happens now?

The multiple federal programs and requirements for states to receive funding can seem daunting but we are not close to providing for our vulnerable foster care youth. The fact that there is 112,000 foster youth waiting for adoption should be proof enough that the federal government must turn more attention to its funding and programming for child welfare. In my home state of Michigan 13,000 children are in foster care and 300 children need to find families. We are not talking about a small state with a small Health and Human Services state department. There are 300 children waiting for loving homes and Michigan received a match from Title IV-E of $249 million. Though this amount seems to be a lot, think of all of the necessary services these children require to heal from trauma and violence as well as the operational costs to help these youth.

Under the current administration’s proposed budget, most of the direct child welfare remains intact however; the many programs that support the main frame of child welfare services are seeing severe cuts and even eliminations. The Social Services Black Grant, the 21st Century Afterschool Learning Centers, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Programs, the Community Services Block Grant and many others will not see the light of day if the current administration’s budget is passed by our Congress. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families will see a $1.1 billion cut and elimination of its $608 contingency fund and food stamps will become even more austere. These services prevent children from entering the foster care system and assist our most endangered citizens. We are in the midst of a health care overhaul where Medicaid- which provides health care for close to 500,000 foster youth and those aging out of the system- is facing proposed capping and cuts. The future of child welfare is in danger because the federal government will see a more balanced budget but state side we will see a ripple effect of irreparable damage hit the most vulnerable population in our nation. The question remains, how will the federal government better care for its foster care youth and when will it stop putting a price tag on children during the budgeting process?