Thousands of foster children and the states responsible for them are losing the critical help they need from the federal government. In 1998, more than half of the children in foster care were eligible for federal support, but, by 2005, less than half were-an estimated 35,000 fewer eligible foster children. The number is projected to continue to decline by approximately 5,000 children each year, according to a new analysis released today by the Kids Are Waiting: Fix Foster Care Now campaign, led by The Pew Charitable Trusts. This decrease is due in part to an antiquated eligibility provision known as the "lookback".
"If these children came to Capitol Hill today, I doubt any member of Congress would turn his or her back on them and say, sorry, can't help you," said Jim O'Hara, managing director of policy initiatives and the Health and Human Services program at Pew. "But hidden back in the states, these children are easier to forget."
Many factors have contributed to the decline in the number of children eligible for federal foster care support, including changes in state policies and the demographics of a state's foster care population. However, experts agree that part of the decline is the result of the lookback policy which ties eligibility for foster care to the income standard for a welfare program dismantled more than 10 years ago. The decrease in the number of children eligible for federal foster care has translated into an estimated $1.9 billion loss in federal foster care support to the states between 1998 and 2004.
Entitled, "Time for Reform: Fix the Foster Care 'Lookback'," the report represents the kick-off of a campaign to highlight the urgent need for federal foster care financing reform. Among the groups already partnering with Kids Are Waiting are Fostering Results, Generations United, National Council for Adoption, National Indian Child Welfare Association, North American Council on Adoptable Children, Public Children Services Association of Ohio, and the Center for Public Policy Institute in Texas.
The so-called "lookback" provision makes a child in foster care's eligibility for federal funds dependent on whether the family from which he or she was removed would have qualified for support in 1996 - according to rules from the now defunct federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.
The lookback policy also raises fundamental questions about whether any children in foster care should be denied federal support. For example, because of this link to the birth family's income, abandoned infants for whom state agencies are unable to identify parents are not ever eligible for federal foster care support. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report states, "There is no policy reason that the federal government should 'care' [in monetary terms] more about children in imminent danger of maltreatment by parents who are poor than it does about children whose parents have higher incomes."
Though it is expected that the lookback provision affects eligibility rates in every state, many other factors also contribute to the overall rate of eligibility for federal foster care, meaning that some states show decreases while others may show increases. However, today's report demonstrates there is a significant downward national trend, and experts concur that at least part of that decline is due to the lookback. The top ten states with the largest percentage drop of children eligible for federal support between 1998 and 2004 were: Maine, Massachusetts, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, Utah, New York, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
The Kids are Waiting report notes that not only does this outmoded policy result in fewer foster children who are eligible for federal foster care support each year, but it also means caseworkers charged with documenting eligibility must spend extra time on paperwork instead of providing services to children and families.
For more information visit www.kidsarewaiting.org.
About the Kids Are Waiting Campaign:Kids Are Waiting: Fix Foster Care Now is a national, nonpartisan campaign dedicated to promoting foster care reform. Led by The Pew Charitable Trusts, an ever-growing number of local, state and national partners are working together so that our most vulnerable children don't spend their childhoods waiting in foster care for the families they deserve. For more information visit: www.kidsarewaiting.org.
About The Pew Charitable Trusts: The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. We partner with a diverse range of donors, public and private organizations and concerned citizens who share our commitment to fact-based solutions and goal-driven investments to improve society. In 2003, Pew launched a major policy initiative to help move children in foster care more quickly and appropriately to safe, permanent families and to prevent children from coming into foster care in the first place. Since that time, Pew has supported the nonpartisan Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care, and promoted public education and advocacy to encourage reform.