Gov. Chris Gregoire today announced that Washington state has been selected for a highly competitive federal Title IV-E child welfare waiver demonstration project. Washington is one of only nine states to be granted this waiver under a new program approved by President Obama in December 2011.
Using this option, Washington can design and demonstrate a wide range of approaches to reforming child welfare and improving outcomes for children in the areas of safety, permanency and well-being.
"This is truly great news for Washington state, and continues our leadership in reforming the way we provide state services," Gregoire said. "Executive and legislative leaders here have been committed to improving the child welfare system and have taken substantial steps to enhance outcomes for children and families involved in the system. It is our vision to leverage the funding flexibility wherever we can and as effectively as we can. This waiver provides us the opportunity to reinvest Title IV-E funds into interventions that help safely keep families together and promote good stewardship of public funds in the child welfare system."
The Administration on Children, Youth and Families of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Department granted the Title IV-E waiver allowing Washington to be more flexible in the ways it uses federal funding for child welfare at the Department of Social and Health Services.
In 2010, more than 19,000 children were identified as non-emergency victims of neglect in Washington. More than 13 percent (2,534) of those children were subsequently placed in foster care.
"Currently the federal government provides Title IV-E funding reimbursements for Title IV-E eligible children in out-of-home care. This new waiver allows us to evaluate the individual family's needs and intervene with services that could help keep children more safely in their own homes," said DSHS Children's Administration Assistant Secretary Denise Revels Robinson. "The new program, Family Assessment Response (FAR) will help us follow one of our key values: keeping as many children as possible safely at home."
The Child Protective Services division of the Children's Administration currently investigates all screened-in complaints of child abuse and neglect. The new FAR program offers alternatives to a CPS investigation. Because FAR focuses on assessment of a family's needs and resources, instead of naming subjects or victims in the investigation or making a formal finding, the intervention tends to be less adversarial and the family's experience with the Department is as helper, rather than accuser. A family's involvement with the FAR program is voluntary, opening the door to a partnership between the family and the agency to assess safety, risk, strengths and needs.
The Title IV-E waiver funding will allow DSHS to provide families with preventative and support services, such as housing assistance, through the FAR program. Similar programs in other states have had positive results. Using a similar program, Florida had a 38 percent decrease in the number of children placed in foster care and Indiana had a 17 percent reduction.
Creation of the concept for the Title IV-E waiver was done by a committee headed by Representative Ruth Kagi and Revels Robinson. Also helping to carry the message to Washington, D.C., about the importance of this program to child welfare reform here were U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott.
"Washington state should be rewarded for keeping families together and protecting kids, not punished" said Cantwell, who championed passage of the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act. "I'm proud to have worked on the legislation that made this waiver possible and supported Washington state's effort to improve the foster care system from the bottom up. Now that this waiver is in place, Washington state will be able to continue innovative programs that reduce caseloads in the foster care system."
"This is wonderful example of how a strong state and federal partnership can deliver for children and families in Washington state," said Murray. "Through this partnership, we will help improve the lives of at-risk children in our state while re-investing savings back into the child welfare system."
"It is great to see this happening. Now more than ever we have to do more with the resources we have. When states have good ideas, the federal government needs to be flexible," said McDermott. "These are the kind of targeted and creative solutions we need so that we're helping at-risk children and families who often fall through the cracks and don't get the services they need from our child welfare system--and I am glad to see Washington state taking the lead."
In 2012, the Washington State Legislature passed four key initiatives pertaining to Family Assessment Response, performance-based contracting, use of evidence-based practices and reinvestment of child welfare savings. These initiatives not only demonstrate the state's continued commitment to improve outcomes for children and families but, coupled with Title IV-E funding flexibility, are the catalyst for fundamental reform of the child welfare system.
The FAR program will be implemented in stages, with the goal of having it available as an option statewide by the end of the waiver program in 2016.
The five-year program will be revenue neutral for the federal government.