May 18, 2004
Panel Supports Foster Care Reform
A new national report advocates changes in federal policy that could aid Maine’s effort to improve service to abused and neglected children and their families.
In a report issued earlier today, the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care recommended greater flexibility in the use of federal funds. The report also advocates for more help to states so they can provide a broader range of services for children and families, including post-reunification and post-adoption service.
“The basic message of this report lines up with what we are working toward in Maine,” said John R. Nicholas, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Human Services. “We want better services to keep families together whenever possible, and we want to find permanent homes sooner for those children who do come into foster care.”
Maine is currently seeking a waiver to use federal money to support families and relatives who choose to be the legal guardian of a child currently in foster care. The Pew report is supportive of that approach. The report also recommends continuing federal support for foster care maintenance and adoption assistance and, in addition, making that support available to all children regardless of income.
Data collected by the Commission also focuses attention on the need to more rapidly create permanent homes for children in foster care. The experience of children in Maine’s foster care system is similar to the national data profile. On average, children in foster care move three times and are in foster care more than three years.
“We are encouraged that the report calls for the same things we advocated in our public comments to the Pew Commission in July 2003,” Nicholas added. “We believe that the focus on permanent homes for children and on giving states the financial flexibility to create that permanency is a good match with our reforms and our vision for kids in our care.”
Maine is already seeing progress in its effort to reduce the foster care population. The Pew report includes data for all states for federal fiscal year 2001 when Maine had 3,226 children in care. Today, Maine has 2,913 children in care, a reduction of 313 in less than three years.
Maine achieved that reduction even as it continued to serve a high number of youth who have remained in foster care after age 18 to pursue an education or independent living goal. Maine currently has more than 125 older-youth in foster care attending college or other post-secondary education programs. According to the report, the actual number of older-youth served in Maine was higher than 35 other states.
The Pew Commission on Children and Foster Care began its work in May 2003 and includes broad bipartisan and stakeholder participation as a voice in the effort to reform child welfare. Its recommendations will be made to Congress, federal agencies, state courts, and communities as a framework for strengthening child welfare agencies and the courts as they seek to secure safe, permanent families for children in foster care or at risk of entering foster care.