U.S. Senate Bill Could Seriously Impact Federal Funding for Florida Group Homes

U.S. Senate Bill Could Seriously Impact Federal Funding for Florida Group Homes
Illustration by Joseph Laney

As we showed you in a recent New Times cover story, Florida's group homes are in serious need of an overall. Due to the privatization of the state's channels for placing and caring for trouble kids, there's a serious lack of oversight among the ground floor service providers who are supposed to be watching these kids — leading to sex, drugs, and violence at the group homes. There are many voices rising up over the need to somehow improve the system.

Among them: a bipartisan band of U.S. Senators who are proposing rerouting the federal funding options going to states. Instead of pushing that money toward foster care, the proposal would urge states to place it with front-end services that would hopefully keep kids out of group and foster care in the first place. 

Orrin Hatch, longtime Republican senator from Utah, vented his feelings in a Senate Finance Committee hearing last May (honestly, you could have used Hatch's comments as a blurb for our investigation — they are spot on). 

"Groups home, sometimes referred to as 'congregate care,' are literally breeding grounds for the sexual exploitation of children and youth," Hatch told the committee. "As the committee heard during a hearing on domestic sex trafficking of children and youth in foster care, traffickers know where these group homes are and target the children placed in them for exploitation."

Hatch went on to propose some kind of legislation that "would refocus federal priorities on connecting vulnerable youth with caring, permanent families. This would be accomplished by eliminating the federal match to group homes for very young children and, after a defined period of time, for older youth." 

He finished: "I know that some might have concerns about limiting federal funds for any type of placement. Here’s how I look at it: No one would support allowing states to use federal taxpayer dollars to buy cigarettes for foster youth. In my view, continuing to use these scarce taxpayer dollars to fund long terms placements in groups homes is ultimately just as destructive." 

The result of that May conversation is the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act, which was dropped on the committee earlier this month. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon. Under the fine print of the bill, states would have more flexibility, and in fact be encourage, to distribute federal match funding made available under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act — money that now pretty much only goes to foster care. 

“The current child welfare funding system provides two choices: put kids in foster care or do nothing," Wyden said in a statement following the release of the bill. "There must be a better option for families who need just a little bit of extra help and this bill will give the system flexibility to respond to real-life situations of families in need.”

According to a summary for the bill, instead of foster care, state's would be encouraged to make " modest front-end investments in family services and kinship placement in order to reduce costly and traumatic stays in foster care." This means anything from family skills training or counseling to goods and services — basically, whatever is necessary to pre-empt a situation where kids would end up in foster care or group homes. 

We'll keep following this as it goes through Congress. But the implications of such a shake-up in federal funding streams feeding Florida's foster care system could have serious implications — and piss off a serious number of people involved. Remember, with Broward's system privatized, you have a lot of independent actors involved, pulling funding and salaries from that funding stream.

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