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HR Subcommittee Examines New Foster Care Law’s Impact on Opioid Crisis

July 26, 2018

The House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE), held a hearing on the “The Opioid Crisis: Implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act.”

The Family First Prevention Services Act, or “Family First,” is an important measure championed by the Committee and signed into law as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 aimed at strengthening families. The law does so by promoting evidence-based prevention services for substance abuse, mental health, and parenting for families to avoid placing children in the foster care system.

This important bill is one of many steps the House has taken in this Congress to help our communities nationwide combat the opioid crisis.

As Chairman Smith said in his opening remarks:

Backed by research in the field, we set out to change the role of federal taxpayer dollars in foster care and adoption. We wanted to reset the incentives and focus resources earlier with upfront prevention services for substance abuse, mental health, and parenting for all families so fewer children would have to experience additional trauma of being removed from his or her home.”

Subcommittee Members heard from Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau and Acting Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Mr. Milner discussed the strategies and challenges states are facing in trying to prevent enrollment in foster care, and that successfully implanting this law is of the upmost importance:

Each of these experiences strengthened my conviction that we must re-envision child welfare in the United States as a system that strengthens families and breaks harmful cycles of trauma and family disruption… Successful implementation must also occur in communities and in collaboration with stakeholders that affect the lives of families in those communities every day, including the legal and judicial community, and public and private service providers. Communities know their residents’ needs better than anyone in Washington, D.C., and we should assist them in supporting their families.

Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) reiterated the importance of Family First and the impact it will have on her state. Rep. Walorski stated:

“The opioid crisis has put unprecedented strains on our communities and social service agencies.  Indiana has seen a huge spike in the number of children in the foster care system due in large part to this epidemic.  I was proud to vote for the Family First Prevention Services Act because we needed to reframe the conversation and to put a greater emphasis on prevention rather than just treating problems as they happened and to verify that children were being placed in quality settings.” 

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA), a domestic abuse survivor and adoptive grandparent who understands firsthand the importance of keeping families together, said:

We care about you and we’re here to try and figure out a way to help. So, I look at this and some have mentioned the opioid problem that is just devastating our country and our children and the percentage of children foster care is due to – a lot of it – parental substance abuse and its dramatic increase…So it is not about just children, it’s not only children, but it’s about drug and alcohol abuse, it’s about human trafficking, it’s about crime, it’s about keeping families together and keeping children safe and healthy, keeping them in school? Isn’t that right? They have a loving home and a loving family, they get educated, they get jobs, they’re successful, they have pride in their lives and their families. That’s what this is about. It’s about the success of America.” 

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), a doctor and adoptive father, said: 

“Family First presents a real opportunity to shift kind of the way we think about the role of federal foster care dollars and how they can be more effectively spent… We have been greatly affected by the opioid epidemic.  As a matter of fact, that has been a huge driver of the increase in our foster care system.  We really need some guidance on that, and the sooner, the better ‑‑ if we are going to be effective….  How can we innovate making this whole system work better?” 

Mr. Milner indicated there would be an ongoing approval process for innovative ideas to receive funding:

“We will come out with an initial list of programs that we will be reviewing, but Family First is inspiring a great deal of attention to building the evidence for programs out there so that we hope to expand the array of services over time….Later this year, we will also again be issuing a Federal Register announcement that will describe that process for reviewing the criteria that we intend to use to review for programs that are reimbursable under the prevention funding stream and also provide guidance for States to submit those programs if they want us to take a look at them.”

Rep. Darin LaHood, a former Big Brother and former board member for the Center for Prevention of Abuse, recognized the challenges ahead in implementing such a major reform:

“When we think about strengthening families and the implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act and how we can make sure that this is the most efficient and effective program possible in this country, implementing a major reform in the current system comes with its challenges.  And I want to commend your willingness to be here today and answer questions about this implementation of the legislation and to make this smooth transition for our State and the local stakeholders.” 

The Subcommittee is committed to continuing its work to fight opioid addiction and strengthen families across the country.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the hearing.