Is Foster Care Changing as We Know It?
On Sept. 29 of this year, foster care in Indiana will change.
Well, not everything will change. The system will still provide emergency accommodations for children who need to be removed from their homes for their safety, with the goal to reunite families whenever possible. Sadly, it doesn’t always work this way. Sometimes the parents simply aren’t equipped to care for children, or the needs of a child are more significant due to mental illness, disabilities or other challenges. This is when longer-term care options like a residential facility, group home, or adoption might be necessary.
On Sept. 29, the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) officially implements changes from the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), a federal law passed in 2018 designed to reduce the number of children entering the foster care system through family preservation and reunification.
This Act was developed for several reasons, including in part after the child welfare system went into emergency mode in 2017. At that time, many families were destabilized due to opioids and other addictive drugs, and children needed safe places to go. The number of children in foster care shot up to more than 440,000 nationally by 2017. In Indiana, it jumped 38% from 2002 to 2017.
While the opioid epidemic certainly isn’t behind us, the nation is making headway against it. As the child welfare system finds ways to respond, FFPSA works to put a renewed emphasis on keeping children with their families. It also allows youth to remain in home settings in the community until they can reunify with family or achieve their permanency plan.
With the Family First Prevention Services Act,
- Agencies like DCS are required to go to great lengths to keep children in their original home.
- When children must be removed from their homes, it limits how long a child can spend in a non-family residential setting or group home.
- Greater interaction is supported between the child and his or her family during reunification.
- Appropriate visitation and communication are promoted to keep all involved parties informed of expectations, progress and plans.
While these changes might be virtually invisible to the general public, those of us who work in foster care will certainly feel it. It allows us to work on the overall health of families, working directly with parents to help them understand how to meet their children’s needs and recognize their children’s strengths and help them grow.
Part of this family-first emphasis will be beneficial in responding to complex cases, such as children with developmental and intellectual disabilities, mental health diagnoses and trauma experiences, or groups of siblings that should be kept together. We have seen more children in this group in recent years, and FFPSA should help us successfully address those situations. The Family First Prevention Services Act changes should result in greater support and guidance for families caring for foster children. So, if you might be interested in providing foster care services, now is a great time to step up. As much as the way we provide foster care might change, one thing will never change: Children in this world need safe and loving homes. If that home could be yours, go to damarfostercare.org, or contact me at 317.813.4720 or [email protected].