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Congresswoman Karen Bass

Representing the 37th District of California

Rep. Bass Issues Statement Applauding Introduction of "Family First Prevention Services Act"

June 16, 2016
Press Release

Rep. Bass Statement Applauding Introduction of "Family First Prevention Services Act"

WASHINGTON--Today, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) issued the following statement in support of the introduction of "Family First Prevention Services Act": 

As the Co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, I would like to offer my support for H.R. 5456 “Family First Prevention Services Act.” This bill is the result of a lengthy bipartisan and bicameral negotiation. My colleagues in both chambers have worked tirelessly and should be applauded for their commitment. This legislation offers support to children who are at imminent risk of foster care entry and to their families. It delinks Title IV-E federal funds from the income eligibilities of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and places a higher emphasis on prevention services in an attempt to assist families with stability.

Removing a child from their home, albeit dysfunctional, is a traumatic experience for a child. As a Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth Co-Chair I have travelled across the country to participate in foster youth listening tours.  I have met foster youth who shared their first-hand accounts. Many professed that they could not understand why they had to be removed because of their parent’s addiction to substance abuse or mental illness. They felt that they were being punished when all their parent needed was assistance in order to keep their families intact.  One young woman stated “Why didn’t you just help my mother?”  Her mother’s addiction was not her fault, and removing her from the only family she knew did not help her mother get the help that she needed. There has been a change in how addiction is viewed. The young woman’s pleas are correct.   This legislation is designed to begin to address keeping families together as they address a caregivers addiction and treatment.

However, I am concerned about the limitations on funding for mental health and substance abuse prevention treatment services as well as limits on in home parent skill-based programs. These restrictions do not address the instances of child abuse and neglect that are often associated with underlying issue of abject poverty.  Congressman Lloyd Doggett’s “Family Stability and Kinship Care Act” addressed this issue by expanding prevention services for crisis assistance or services designed to stabilize families in times of crisis to facilitated kinship placement. These services included the following: transportation, clothing, household goods, assistance with housing, utility payments, child care, respite care, and assistance connecting families with other community-based services. These services are vital for families in need of critical assistance. They provide families with the necessary boost to get by when facing harsh economic times. I am concerned that removing this provision will exclude families whose children may end up in the foster care system due to their inability to provide financially. Addressing issues arising from poverty can help loving families remain intact.  

The “Family First Prevention Services Act” provides crucial support for kinship care providers. States will be allowed to use Title IV-E funding for the Kinship Navigator Program that provides assistance for grandparents and other relative caregivers. They are taking care of children who would otherwise be raised by non-relative caregivers. The Kinship Navigator Program helps to keep children connected to their families.

In the 1990s, I worked with grandparents to advocate for both financial assistance and support to care for their grandchildren during the height of the crack-cocaine epidemic. At the time  children in my community of Los Angeles were being removed from their homes in droves. Many grandparents were forced to raise their grandchildren on fixed incomes and in some cases, had to make the tough decision to relinquish their grandchildren to child welfare agencies because they could not afford to care for them. Opening Title IV-E funding will give relative caregivers the support they need to take on the responsibility to care for their own.

While this bill expands the use of Title IV-E funding for prevention services, it also limits the use of this funding for congregate care facilities. States will no longer receive reimbursements for institutions unless they meet criteria of being a: qualified residential treatment program, a setting specializing in providing prenatal, post-partum, or parenting supports for youth, or a supervised independent living setting for youth 18 years or older. Although I agree with the notion that children should be placed in home-based facilities rather than institutionalized, I am concerned that the 30 day assessment guideline requires alternative placement be found for youth who do not meet these qualifications. We must be mindful of any unintended consequences that this may result  if youth are appropriate alternatives are not found within the 30 day time frame, consequences such as an increase in homelessness.

The “Family First Prevention Services Act” also includes language from my “Foster Youth Independence Act,” which allows States to expand the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program to foster youth up to age 23—giving youth who are transitioning into adulthood the necessary supports to do so successfully.

Additionally, Title IV-B is reauthorized through this legislation. It extends the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program and Regional Partnership Grants which assist States, Tribes and communities across the nation to improve the well-being, permanency and safety outcomes of children who are in out-of-home placement as a result of a caregiver’s substance abuse, or are at risk of such placement—a much needed provision that will assist in addressing the opioid abuse epidemic facing our country.  

Although I have concerns with some of the provisions in this bill, I am confident that this legislation is an important shift in our culture, placing a greater emphasis on family stability rather than removal. I am committed to seeing this bill pass through the House and move on to Senate, and eventually signed into law by the President. Many members of the advocacy community have pushed my colleagues to consider this legislation. Once this legislation becomes law, I urge them to continue to work and place pressure on States to implement this law appropriately. Our work is in not done; however, this is a great step forward.