FIJ Quarterly - Summer 2022 Edition

In the years since, and particularly after the practice was exposed in 2021 by NPR and The Marshall Project , some states and localities have moved to curb it. Ransom. Many family policing systems actually require parents to “reimburse” them for part of the cost of their children’s foster care. Sometimes the failure to make these payments can, itself, prolong foster care. And when a family is reunified, they still may have to pay off the debt, driving them deeper into the poverty that often causes the removal of children in the first place. Even if one can get past the fact that the practice is morally reprehensible, it doesn’t even save money. On the contrary, the cost of collection—and prolonged foster care—is greater than the money squeezed out of families. Although some states say, such collections are required under federal law, in fact that law is flexible. Any state that doesn’t want to engage in this practice can stop. 55 States refer to these payments as “child support.” But when someone takes a child from her or his parents and then forces the parents to pay money to get the child back, the only proper term for the payment is ransom. Better Alternatives Many ideas have been proposed for changing these incentives. Any of these would help; this list runs from least to most helpful: The Biden plan. The Biden Administration has proposed modest but significant reforms. Under their plan, the amount of money reimbursed under Title-IVE for every foster care placement would be increased by ten percentage points if the placement is in the least harmful form of foster care, kinship foster care with a relative or close family friend. It would be decreased by five percentage points for the worst placements—in group homes and institutions. For example, a state that now gets 60 cents on the dollar for placing an eligible child in any form of foster care would get 70 cents if the placement is with a relative and 55 cents if the placement is in a group home or institution.

The plan also would increase the reimbursement rate for preventive services under Family First and add some flexibility to the process for determining which programs are eligible for Family First reimbursement. 56 Waivers for all. The George W. Bush Administration floated an idea that amounts to taking the waiver process, which was complex and required a specific application and various case-by-case approvals, and making it simple: let any state trade-in the open-ended IV-E entitlement for a flexible flat grant. For five years, states would get the same amount they had been getting through the IV-E entitlement as a flat grant. It would be adjusted for inflation. As with waivers, if states took fewer children, they could keep the savings if the money was plowed back into child welfare. If states took more children, they’d have to pay for those additional placements themselves. The plan was strictly voluntary. But the child welfare establishment, particularly groups on the Left like the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), rose up in demagogic fury. CDF declared that this voluntary plan would “dismantle … foster care.” 57 The attacks were successful, the plan went nowhere. The Trump Administration tried to revive it; again, it went nowhere. 58 It died again even though the opposition by CDF to the Bush Administration plan not only was bad for children; it was bad for states’ bottom lines. Five years after the plan was first proposed, the Congressional Research ______________ 55 Shapiro, Joseph. “States send kids to foster care and their parents the bill — often one too big to pay.” NPR, December 23, 2021. 56 Kelly, John. “Biden Proposes Major Spending Shifts to Prioritize Kin, Foster Care Prevention.” The Imprint , March 28, 2022. services-insider/biden-prioritize-kin-foster-care- prevention/63821 57 Children’s Defense Fund. “It’s Time for New Voices for New Choices Which Truly Leave No Child Behind” Feb. 26, 2003, p.2. 58 Kelly, John. “Trump 2019 Budget: Flexibility Beyond Family First Act, But with a Catch.” The Imprint , Feb. 16, 2018. trump-budget-flexibility-beyond-family-first-act- with-catch/29973

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