Casey Family Programs Played Key Role In Changing Foster Care Forever
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon was furious and heartbroken.
Nearly three years after Wyden launched an overhaul of the country’s foster care system, the bipartisan legislation he had championed was dying. At 2:47 a.m. on a December morning in 2016, Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, stepped into the well of the Senate to plead with his colleagues to pass the sweeping Family First Prevention Services Act that he had crafted alongside the committee’s chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican. The measure would free up federal funds to help families at risk of losing their children to foster care.
For decades, child-welfare advocates have argued that Washington had created a “perverse incentive” to tear families apart. Since the federal government started funding child welfare programs in 1961, almost all the billions of dollars in reimbursements sent to the states had done the opposite, keeping kids in foster care or helping them through adoption, rather than preventing the breakup of biological families.
With an opioid epidemic raging, leaving states from Indiana to New Mexico with ballooning numbers of foster children, hundreds of child welfare advocacy organizations and nearly every member of Congress agreed the time for change had come. But some state child welfare officials had campaigned against this fundamental re-ordering of the federal role in foster care, alongside segments of the multibillion-dollar, group-home industry that states use to house foster youth.
“We know that federal policy shouldn’t create an incentive to rip these families apart,” Wyden said on the Senate floor. “It should create incentives to keep families together.”
Arguing that the bill was an example of “principled bipartisanship,” Wyden, likely aware that his request to move the bill forward would fail, promised to not give up, even though the 114th Congress would soon be over and the partisan acrimony that poisoned legislative debates would continue into the next session...