Reps. Bass, Marino Introduce Legislation To Develop And Enhance Kinship Navigator Programs

Earlier this week, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Congressman Tom Marino (R-Penn.), Co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, introduced legislation to provide grants to states, tribes (including tribal consortia), territories or community-based organizations to develop, enhance, and evaluate Kinship Navigator programs. Kinship Navigator programs support family caregivers through complex legal and administrative systems, help avert crises, prevent multiple child placements, and avoid the need for more costly services.

“With the rise of substance abuse highlighted by the opioid epidemic, more and more kinship caregivers are stepping up to raise children in need of temporary care or permanent homes,” said Rep. Bass. “This is happening in every state and every county in the United States. While we work to address this immediate epidemic, our child welfare systems are being overwhelmed. Kinship caregivers need support and this bill will help provide the assistance necessary to creating a stable home and environment for the child. I hope Congress can come together on this bipartisan issue to stand up for our kinship caregivers and our nation’s most vulnerable youth.”

“Every child deserves to grow up in a healthy, safe, and loving home,” said Congressman Marino. “We know that when children grow up in stable households, they are much more likely to succeed as adults. This legislation will help ensure that every foster child has the opportunity to pursue their dreams, start great careers, and raise loving families of their own.”

The bill will allow community-based organizations to apply directly to the Department of Health and Human Services for funding and also require program evaluations that include community perspectives. You can read the full bill here.

Why Kinship Care Matters:

Research demonstrates that children in kinship care are less likely to experience numerous different placements with different families. Kinship care results in better outcomes for all children living in out-of-home care because they are more likely to remain in their same neighborhood, in the same educational setting, be placed with siblings, and have consistent contact with their birth parents than other children in foster care. This is one critical piece in improving outcomes for the children in the child welfare system.

Why Involving Entire Families in Child Protection Cases Can Improve the Lives of Endangered Children

By: Susan Meyers Chandler and Laurie Arial Tochiki

Annually, about 435,000 children across the United States are taken away from their custodial parents following a confirmed incident of abuse or neglect. In 2015, approximately two million cases of abuse and neglect were accepted for investigation by child protection services agencies in the fifty U.S. states. Although other family members currently care for such children in informal arrangements, the vast majority of children in protective cases are placed with non-biological foster families (now called resource families) until the parent’s home is considered safe.

Outcomes in the child welfare system are relatively poor – with such children at high-risk for school dropout, homelessness, unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, and future joblessness. According to available research, kinship and foster placements protect children and eventually reunite them with their biological parents about equally, yet kin placements are less disruptive. In practice, however, many child protective services agencies do not encourage kin to get involved in decisions until after a case of abuse or neglect has been confirmed.

Challenges in the Child Welfare System

Children and families who enter the child welfare system often have multiple challenges including behavioral health issues, special educational needs, substance abuse challenges, and delinquency. Often the families are poor, struggle with food and housing insecurity, and may have poor parenting skills or mental health challenges.

Various public agencies are charged with meeting these multiple needs, but child protective services agencies, by legal mandate, are the sole state system charged with ensuring children’s safety and well-being – and these agencies are bound by firm administrative rules and practices that often exclude family members and other relatives from involvement in decisions about the child. Due to confidentiality requirements, other child-serving agencies may not be involved, either. Nevertheless, research shows that children needing protection do better when their families are involved; and collaboration among various service agencies also improves outcomes for children and their families.

What Can Be Done?

Although family inclusion does not consistently happen, it is stressed by most child protective services agencies and a cornerstone of federal and state policy. The federal Fostering Connections Act of 2008 now requires that, within 30 days, child protective services notify adult relatives and grandparents that a child has been removed from parental custody. Family members are required by law to be included in case planning and decision-making meetings. In addition, financial assistance for guardianships is now provided when children are placed with relatives.

The 2010 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Reauthorization requires agencies to document their capacity to ensure meaningful involvement of family members in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of child protective decisions. For all states, a Child and Family Services Review evaluates conformance with federal requirements. This review measures family engagement and agency practices that reach out to extended family members. Restorative practices are encouraged – such as agency efforts to promote healing in family relationships and involvement in family conferences. Newer models of family engagement include creating family “circles” that acknowledge the harm done, further child safety and parental confidence, and provide ongoing family support services.

Lessons from Innovations in Hawai’i

The state of Hawai‘i has a state-wide system of family conferencing that is offered to all families entering the child welfare system. Family Group Decision Making is based on an indigenous process developed in New Zealand. In Hawaiʻi, the ʻOhana Conferencing model draws upon western mediation and social work practice, as well as the indigenous Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. The system has involved more than 17,000 families in the decisions involving children in the child welfare system, by assuring that families are:

  • Included in the decision-making process as true, respected and active partners in the decisions that affect them;
  • Listened to and heard, with their input valued;
  • Encouraged to find appropriate strategies to solve their own problems;
  • Actively engaged in collaborative problem-solving;
  • Equipped with the knowledge that there are partners in the community to help support the child and the family;

Using ʻOhana Conferencing has allowed Hawaiʻi to enjoy one of the highest percentages of kinship care in the child welfare system. The state is in the top three for kinship care, and more than two-fifths of children in protective care have been placed with kin since 2008.

ʻOhana Conferencing is strengthened by Hawaii’s strong process for strong commitment to finding kin and including all appropriate family members in the decisions about protection and foster care placements. This Family Finding process has reduced the number of children living in foster care and improved outcomes for the state’s endangered children.

Child Welfare System Increasingly Relying on Relatives to Raise Children Exposed to Trauma

According to a new report by Generations United, grandparents and other relatives who step in to care for children, play an important role in mitigating trauma, which children in the child welfare system experience at starkly higher rates than the general population.

Thirty percent (127,819) of children in foster care are being raised by grandparents or other relatives, a six percent increase since 2008. In the wake of the opioid epidemic, that number is even more dramatic in the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic like Ohio, which saw a 62 percent increase in the number of children placed with relatives in foster care since 2010. For each child in foster care with a relative, there are 20 children outside of the system with a relative.

More than half of the children in the child welfare system have endured four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), leaving them 12 times more likely to have negative health outcomes – substance use disorders, mental health problems, and engaging in aggressive or risky behaviors – than the general child population.

“Growing up with a childhood full of trauma and abuse, there were very few moments where I felt safe and very few people with whom I felt protected. Being put into my uncle’s care was the best decision that could have ever been made for me,” explained Kindra, whose last name is withheld to protect her privacy. “It wasn’t an easy road by any means, but I have no doubt in that it completely saved my life.”

Compared to those in care with non-relatives, children in foster care with relatives have more stable and safe childhoods and a greater likelihood of having a permanent home. The have better mental and behavioral health, and are more likely to report always feeling loved.

“These relatives are the loving and protective arms for babies, children and youth who’ve experience trauma,” said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United. “They are caring for children with multiple high-level needs and they should get the support required for the families to thrive.”

Unlike parents or foster parents who plan for months or years to care for a child, grandparents or other relative caregivers usually step into their roles unexpectedly. At a moment’s notice, they are forced to navigate complex systems to help meet the physical and cognitive health challenges of the children who come into their care.  Grandfamilies are less likely than foster families to have access to specialized training and support from professionals that have expertise in helping children, who have experienced trauma, heal.

“One thing I know to be true: you can’t love away the effects of trauma from neglect and abuse,” said Jan Wagner, grandparent caregiver, Michigan“Our children need the same amount of intensive therapy and services as a traditional foster placement and we, as their caregiver desperately need the same to help them heal.”

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • Reform federal child welfare financing to provide more trauma-informed support to prevent children from entering or re-entering foster care
  • Increase availability of and access to trauma training and supports designed for grandfamilies
  • Address barriers to licensing relatives as foster parents
  • Ensure grandfamilies not licensed as foster parents can access financial assistance to meet children’s needs

Generations United will release The 2017 State of Grandfamilies in America report Sept. 13 at a reception, from 5:00pm to 7:00pm, in room G-11 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Generations United will honor Senator Susan Collins (Maine) and Senator Bob Casey (Pennsylvania)with its 2017 Grandfamilies Champion Awards at the event.

History Really Does Matter in Child Protection

It was several years ago that I was watching the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program, The Fifth Estate, and its story on the death of Jeffrey Baldwin. As the CBC out it, Jeffrey died of starvation at the hands of his grandparents in one of the world’s richest cities, while those who could have stopped it did not.

Like all cases where a child dies with child protection involvement, there were many factors at play. One was certainly information that was buried in child protection files about past convictions for child abuse involving both grandparents. In addition, there had been some form of parenting capacity assessment that had apparently concluded that the grandmother was unfit to parent.

“No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn't know it.”I was reminded of this as I read an excellent review from Child Family Community Australia titled Rarely and Isolated Incident which made several conclusions including the following:

Practice and policy responses to children who experience single maltreatment events should be different to those for children who experience multiple maltreatment events. Survivors of multiple maltreatment events are more likely to experience complex trauma and the negative effects of cumulative harm, both of which require more comprehensive intervention and treatment.

They note that there is a lack of success in interventions with children when maltreatment or abuse are seen as isolated or single events. They identify that research shows quite the opposite – that the majority of children experience multiple events and often in multiple forms. They also note that children who have these experiences inside a family are also quite vulnerable to experiencing them outside the family as well.

Drawing upon a wide body of research, the authors take time to share with the reader the various important categories that child protection workers must consider when assessing the histories of children:

  • multiple type maltreatment which would include sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological maltreatment, neglect along with witnessing domestic violence;
  • poly-victimisation which outlines how a child may have various sources of maltreatment within the family and the community (including bullying);
  • complex trauma which is greater than presently thought of through the lens of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

It involves disturbances to the cognitive, affective, and behavioral dimensions of a person’s life. This reflects the prolonged nature of the disturbance and the impact on multi-factorial functioning on into adult life. Psychological and physical health are impacted. This is combined with high rates of subsequent victimization in adulthood; Cumulative harm describes both the cumulative harm of multi-victimization along with the multiple harms of multiple types of maltreatment from multiple sources. However, cumulative harm can also occur with multiple victimizations to single perpetrator events in which the victims of Ariel Castro come to mind.

The implications for practice are profound, not the least of which is that, given the high probability that single maltreatment events are low, that investigation should seek to consider a longitudinal view of the child and family. Maltreatment should not be seen as a discrete event. That a previous complaint led to investigation, services and file closure should not suggest that this meant the issues were resolved. Research keeps telling us that many of the interventions used in child protection are not leading to long-term changes in many families.

For clinicians, this also means that there is a need to think about the ways in which therapy is approached. Psychological, behavioral as well as developmental concerns are likely requiring attention in the recovery process. My own work with assessing and treating those with addiction, both in and out of the child protection system, speaks to the validity of seeing these four categories as extremely relevant to our work.

Reference:

Price-Robertson, R., Rush, P., Wall, L. & Higgins, D. (2013). Rarely and isolated incident: Acknowledging the interrelatedness of child maltreatment, victimization and trauma. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies

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