New Federal Legislation has Good Intentions, but Doesn’t Fix Group Home Problem
On September 18, 2013, Senator Orrin Hatch introduced S. 1518, otherwise known as the Improving Outcomes for Youth at Risk for Sex Trafficking Act of 2013. The legislation is intended to reduce time foster youth spend in congregate care such as group homes. S. 1518 includes some positive measures, such as a requirement that states implement standards and processes for youths who are either being trafficked or are at risk of being trafficked. S. 1518 would also amend the John H. Chaffee Foster Care Independence Program to provide housing assistance to foster youth under the age of 26 who have aged out of the system and are pregnant, parenting or have been victimized by sex trafficking.
S. 1518 also aims to reduce the time spent in group homes, which are often targeted by sex traffickers, by cutting off federal money to children in such placements. The bill would limit the use of group homes and residential care for children under 13 by cutting off federal match money to them if they remained in congregate care after 15 days, and would cut off federal match money to children over the age of 13 if they remained in congregate care for more than either 365 consecutive days or 548 nonconsecutive days. It would also prohibit child welfare agencies from setting Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement, or long-term foster care, as an option for children under the age of sixteen, in order to compel caseworkers to instead pursue reunification, guardianship, or adoption for these youth.
Although Senator Hatch’s aim of reducing the time foster youth spend in congregate care is noble, S. 1518 is short-sighted in that it cuts off group home funding without specifying viable alternatives. This problem should be addressed by supporting family-like placements on the front end, which would eliminate the need for placement in group homes. Until more federal funding is allotted to children in relative and family placements, bills like S. 1518 will only put a greater strain on the child welfare system.
The Alliance would like to see reforms targeted at ensuring children who are placed in preferred family settings with relatives be provided with sufficient supports and services. The Alliance has been spearheading efforts in California to encourage equitable supports for relatives. Rather then restricting federal funding to youth in group homes, Congress should consider reforming antiquated federal eligibility rules to ensure that all children in family homes receive federal support. And, here in California, our relative foster parents often receive less support then any other foster placement. We need to change that, and can start by adopting policies that ensure that all of California’s foster youth are equally supported, especially when they are with relative foster parents. Learn more about our efforts at kids-alliance.org/relatives.