By Representative Ivy Spohnholz, Alaska, co-chair of CHAMPS state legislative partners advisory group, adapted from remarks at the 2018 Legislative Summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures (Los Angeles)
The passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act in February this year holds great promise for driving systemic reforms that help more children stay safely at home with their birth families and avoid the need for foster care’s safety net. The Family First Act elevates national attention on the importance of supporting birth families in a healing process. The Act also brings new attention to the increasing urgency for public officials to focus on recruiting, supporting and retaining quality foster parent who are needed to care for children who do need foster care.
As we heard, a key factor to the Congressional deliberations of the Family First Act was the devastating toll that the opioid crisis is having on families.
As communities continue to reel from the devastating effects of opioid addiction, there’s an urgency across the county to implementing the solutions that the Family First Act offers in terms of leveraging federal funds for evidence-based substance abuse treatment, mental health services and in-home parenting supports. At the same time, many communities feel an urgency to finding more foster families to help care for an increasing number of children coming into care.
Over the past four years, six states have seen their overall caseloads rise by more than 50 percent: Alaska, Georgia, Minnesota, Indiana, Montana and New Hampshire. What’s more, two-thirds of all states (36 states total) have experienced foster caseload increases.
While increasing caseloads is a clear reason to focus on recruiting foster families, foster parent shortages should not be approached simply by focusing on how to attract new – or more – foster parents.
A key part of the solution is finding ways to better support existing foster parents. Not only are there amazing foster parents who we want to continue to support, they also are the best recruiters and mentors to new foster families. What’s more, they have expertise and insights that we need to harness at the policy and program level. They know what works and what doesn’t work. It’s critical that we see foster parents as partner in decision making.
And there’s good reason for policy makers in every community to focus attention on foster parenting.
- Foster parents have been largely overlooked as policy solutions, but they are absolutely vital to helping children succeed.
- Stable foster parenting helps children achieve more success in school, helps them stay safe and build resilience.
- Stable foster parenting helps children overcome trauma and achieve better health.
- There is an abundance of research that points to the benefits to children in foster care when they experience safe, table care while in foster care.
By identifying solutions to help recruit, retain and support foster parents, we can be part of helping more children succeed.
It’s what we want for our own kids. It’s what every child deserves.
CHAMPS — which stands for “Children Need Amazing Parents — is a national policy campaign to spur policy improvements nationally and in states by bringing together a variety of partners including researchers, advocates, pediatricians, faith-based leaders, foster parents, youth, service providers and others.
CHAMPS has developed a policy playbook to encourage state policy makers to take action to support improved foster parenting.
The CHAMPS playbook is based on what we know from science and best practice, which is that children do best in the care of stable, loving families. We know one of the most powerful ways we can help children in foster care is to ensure they have supportive foster parents to help them heal from trauma, grow and thrive.
The six policy solutions that CHAMPS advocates are highlighted in the CHAMPS policy playbook. These include:
- Strengthening relationships between foster and birth families
- Implementing data-driven recruitment and retention practices
- Engaging foster parents in decision making
- Providing foster parents timely access to trusted, dedicated staff and peer support
- Prioritizing placements with relatives
- Ensuring timely access to physical and mental health services
For each of these policy goals, CHAMPS offers a wide array of examples of policy approaches to achieve these goals.
CHAMPS offers technical assistance to policy makers and program leaders interested in these policy approaches.
By supporting effective foster parenting policies, we can help more children experience greater stability while they are in foster care, and help more children leave foster care to rejoin their birth families, or join a new family through adoption or guardianship.
Policy reforms that support foster parents can be a game changer for children and families.
CHAMPS is able to provide support to state legislators with support from philanthropy partners that are making all of this possible. They are:
- The Aviv Foundation
- The Lumos USA Foundation
- The Annie E Casey Foundation
- The Redlich Horwitz Foundation
- The Sherwood Foundation
- The Duke Endowment
- The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
- The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation