Child Welfare Services Insufficient to Meet Need

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on federal child welfare funding finds states go beyond designated funding streams to further child welfare, but it is still not enough to meet the needs of children and families.  The report was required by The Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-34), which mandated the GAO look at federal funding sources for child welfare services. To assess child welfare funding sources and their sufficiency, the GAO interviewed child welfare officials and experts and reviewed federal law; reports; federal expenditures; and state expenditures in Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico and Virginia.

The report highlights the types of child welfare services furthering prevention, family preservation, reunification and permanency and the ways child welfare agencies provide them. It outlines designated federal funding, including Part 1, Child Welfare Services and Part 2, Promoting Safe and Stable Families, of Title IV-B of the Social Security Act, as well as Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. IV-E provides maintenance payments and subsidies for foster care, kinship guardianship and adoption, but the report limits further exploration of funding and service needs to those covered under IV-B. The report goes on to discuss how states spend IV-B funding and supplement it with additional federal funding. Supplemental funding sources include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), and Medicaid. In addition, IV-E waivers are described, including the ways that the 15 states currently granted this permission are using IV-E funds for services covered by IV-B.

The second half of the report addresses child welfare agency challenges in securing services. Citing reports that children and families do not consistently receive needed services, there is a discussion of the ways service gaps negatively affect child and family outcomes. The report then describes a number of reasons for these service gaps, including provider shortages, inadequate health coverage, inadequate transportation, limited funding for preventive services, and challenges accessing services from partner agencies. The report concludes by acknowledging the larger environment of ongoing fiscal restraint and the unlikely prospects for additional funds outside of those cost shifted from IV-E under waivers. The Department of Health and Human Services agreed with the GAO’s findings and suggested additional measures to ease fiscal constraints, including improving outcomes measurement and shifting funding from ineffective services towards evidence-based services.

These findings make a compelling case for child welfare financing reform, as CWLA and other advocates have been urging in recent years.  We call on Congress to take up legislation to change the IV-E finance structure in order to address the inadequacies highlighted in the report. Title IV-E should be updated to allow funds to be used for a broader array of interventions including prevention efforts, family preservation programs, and reunification services. CWLA urges Congress to act without delay.

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