Thursday, July 29, 2010

Reporting to Congress on the foster care waiver that saved Florida


A subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing starting at 10:00am today on waivers from rules that limit the use of huge amounts of federal money only to warehousing children in foster care. Witnesses include the Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, George Sheldon, who will testify about the enormous success Florida has had with its waiver, which allows the state to use up to about $140 million per year that otherwise would be restricted to foster care on better alternatives as well.

The waivers will be expiring soon – extending them is vital to the continued success of Florida in transforming its child welfare system from one of the nation's worst into an emerging national leader.

The home page for the hearing includes a link to live coverage on the web. But I doubt the cameras will be focusing much on the audience. Too bad. Virtually every organization wedded to the child welfare status quo will have someone in the room, and they'll all be thinking about how to kill the waivers without actually saying that's what they're doing. Expect a lot of written statements for the record filled with comments about how "we favor flexibility but…" "the waivers are promising, however…," or "we strongly support alternatives to foster care, as long as…"

That's how the nation's foster care-industrial complex always tries to kill reform. Never say "no." Just, "yes, but…" it to death.

In fact, extending the waivers isn't nearly enough. Congress should authorize HHS to make Florida-style waivers quickly and easily available to any state or county that wants one. Even then, relatively few child welfare leaders are likely to have the courage – the classic profile in cowardice being Michigan, which actually accepted a Florida-style waiver and then turned it down at the last minute. But at least if such waivers were readily available those with the vision to transform their child welfare systems will have the financial incentives from the federal government on their side, instead of getting in the way.

For details on child welfare financing and the full context for today's hearing, see NCCPR's report, You Get What You Pay For.