Thursday, January 14, 2010

Foster care, family preservation and financial incentives: The waiver that’s STILL saving Florida

A previous post to this Blog discusses the latest report from the Florida Child Abuse Death Review Committee. The post notes that even this group has come to see how a pilot project for "differential response," which involves increasing screening of reports to the state's child abuse hotline, has made children safer.

But there's another new report out about Florida which tells far more about how children are faring. It's the latest independent evaluation of Florida's "Child First" waiver. As is discussed in detail in this previous post, the waiver allows Florida to take more than $140 million in federal money that, in other states, can be spent only on foster care and use it for safe, proven alternatives as well. The waiver played a key role in turning around what was once one of the nation's worst child welfare systems, a transformation that caught the attention of The New York Times.

Like the previous evaluation, the latest concludes that, as the waiver has helped Florida reduce entries into foster care, children have gotten safer.

But while child welfare continues to change for the better in Florida, there's been no improvement in the politics, in the state or nationally. Nationally, the odds that other states will get the same chance to do what Florida did remain slim, because the nation's foster care-industrial complex, the powerful private child welfare agencies paid for every day they hold children in foster care, remains opposed. They are led by the trade association for such groups, and public agencies as well, the group with the Orwellian name, Child Welfare League of America. Details are in our previous post about the Florida waiver.

And in Florida, progress is hampered by the desire of some pols to play to their right-wing base, as illustrated by the case of Rifqa Bary, and the state's cruel – and stupid – refusal to let potential parents adopt if they are gay.

The report on the waiver also is one more reminder to people in Michigan of the kind of dismal leadership that has characterized their child welfare agency for so long. Michigan initially accepted the same waiver as Florida, then chickened out at the last minute. That happened on the watch of the former head of the state Department of Human Services, Marianne Udow. She had the right principles, but lacked the courage to back them up. Her successor, Ismael Ahmed, hasn't shown that he even has the principles. His behavior suggests that he believes his job is to pander to the state's powerful private agencies – the "permanent government" of Michigan child welfare.

So while the waiver helped Florida cushion the blow of recession, in Michigan, as is discussed in detail in our reports on Michigan child welfare, Ahmed imposed slash-and-burn budget cuts to prevention and family preservation in order to fund rate increases for largely worthless residential treatment centers and a foster care worker hiring binge.