Foster Care:

Services to Prevent Out-of-Home Placements Are Limited by Funding Barriers

HRD-93-76: Published: Jun 29, 1993. Publicly Released: Jul 9, 1993.

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Joseph F. Delfico
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed foster care and family preservation services, focusing on the: (1) statutory and funding barriers states face in delivering appropriate services; (2) strategies states use to cope with those barriers; and (3) conditions under which foster care and family preservation services are most appropriate or successful.

GAO found that: (1) various funding barriers limit states' ability to provide child welfare services; (2) federal funding for foster care is open-ended, but funding for direct child welfare services is limited; (3) federal funding has not kept pace with the increase in child welfare service needs; (4) foster care legislation has no waiver provision, so states cannot use foster care funds to demonstrate alternative service methods; (5) state fiscal crises have limited funding for preventing foster care placements and family reunification services; (6) state resources have been stretched by the increase in child abuse and neglect cases; (7) states cope with federal and state funding barriers by maximizing their federal matching funds, shifting costs to local governments, and using less costly alternatives to group foster care and residential treatment programs for children with special needs; (8) family preservation programs could reduce the need for out-of-home placements and foster care costs, and states are seeking to expand the programs although long-term results are not known; (9) the program characteristics that correlate with foster care placement prevention are not known; and (10) researchers and state officials believe family preservation programs should be an option in providing child welfare services.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Public Law 96-272 requires states to prevent the unnecessary placement of children in foster care and to reunite foster children with their families whenever possible. GAO reported that state efforts to meet this requirement were hindered by two factors: (1) the limited availability of federal funding for family preservation and support services under Title IV-B; and (2) states' inability to use Title IV-E foster care funds for such services. GAO's cost-neutral recommendation, which addressed the second factor, would have allowed states to use Title IV-E funds for these services. Congress, instead, addressed the first factor by amending Title IV-B and funding a new program of family preservation and support services. Thus, GAO is closing the recommendation because the alternative action is designed to achieve the same desired result of assisting states to comply with P.L. 96-272.

    Matter: In any child welfare legislative proposal, Congress may wish to consider amending the Social Security Act so that the Secretary of Health and Human Services could waive state compliance with certain Title IV-E requirements, similar to waiver authority present for Titles IV-A and IV-D. Such waivers could permit any state to submit a request to: (1) waive the current prohibition against using IV-E funds for direct services; (2) demonstrate the provision of family preservation services using IV-E funds; and (3) rigorously evaluate the long-term effect of such services on preserving or reuniting families.


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