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Senators Baldwin and Portman Lead Bipartisan Effort to Improve Foster Care Services for America’s Most Vulnerable Youth

The Family-Based Foster Care Services Act Increases Quality of Care for Children with Major Health and Mental Health Challenges

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) have introduced bipartisan legislation to improve foster care services for thousands of America’s most vulnerable youth. The Family-Based Foster Care Services Act increases access to quality care by clarifying Medicaid policy that directly affects foster children with special behavioral health needs and/or medical disabilities, as well as vulnerable children living with kinship and biological caregivers.

“The Family-Based Foster Care Services Act improves health care and mental health services for some of the most vulnerable youths in our country and ensures that effective, community-based options are available to our families who need it most,” said Senator Baldwin. “By training foster families to care for some children’s unique needs, these vulnerable young people will find some stability in their home life, often for the very first time.”

“This commonsense bill will allow vulnerable children to have better access to high-quality foster care,” Senator Portman stated. “By improving health care and mental health services for kids with unique needs, we will provide a sense of stability for these children and better equip foster parents to care for them.”

Therapeutic Foster Care, often referred to as “Treatment Foster Care” or TFC, is the evidence-informed, trauma-informed, and highly effective placement of children and youth with serious medical, psychological, emotional and social needs. Under the TFC model, foster parents are given special training to address the needs of youths with major mental health challenges and children receive intensive in-home services to sustain them in the community. Kinship and biological families may also receive TFC training to care for their youth to help avoid out-of -home care and to support kinship placements.

TFC provides critical services to approximately 40,000 foster children across the country. The model works to keep its particularly vulnerable youth out of costly and often ineffective institutional care. In addition, it provides needed clinical therapy options to youth in lieu of overmedication.

Despite the clear benefits of TFC, current law does not provide for a standard definition of TFC under Medicaid. Though TFC services are provided across the country—and are reimbursed under Medicaid and other child welfare funding streams—the lack of a federal standard definition impairs TFC quality and access. The Family-Based Foster Care Services Act fixes this problem by establishing a federal Medicaid definition for TFC. This commonsense clarification will promote accountability for states offering TFC, identify financing options, and drive personnel training and standards.

Senator Baldwin is dedicated to improving access to high-quality foster care services nationwide because of Wisconsin’s exemplary TFC agencies and quality services provided across the state. In Wisconsin, TFC is called “Treatment Foster Care” and according to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, provides quality services across the state to roughly 1,000 children per year. Wisconsin TFC providers, including the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, have been recognized for providing quality services to at-risk youth.

“As the largest provider of TFC in Wisconsin, we know first-hand that trauma-informed, therapeutic family placements are effective in providing for the safety and well-being of children needing a higher-level of care,” said Amy Herbst, VP Child Well-Being, Community Services Division, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. “This legislation will ensure that children with significant behavior or health challenges continue to have access to individualized, home-based, therapeutic care and that biological parents and kinship caregivers are eligible for the same specialized training and consultation that treatment foster care parents receive. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin applauds Senator Baldwin for championing this evidenced-based, cost-effective approach to protecting our most vulnerable children."

Ohio has long offered a treatment foster care model for vulnerable foster youth who have been impacted by complex trauma, intensive mental health needs, and medically fragile conditions. Pressley Ridge, located in Cincinnati, works with children and foster care to provide a haven for safety, renewal, and return. Pressley Ridge works with foster parents, therapists, and caseworkers to provide services that help children thrive with intensive, individualized treatment within a safe, supportive, and nurturing home environment. This kind of evidence-based practice ensures that children and youth receive the services and support they need to enhance their overall quality of life.

The legislation is endorsed by a significant number of national children’s and mental health organizations including: the Foster Family-based Treatment Association, the Children’s Defense Fund, Generations United, Child Welfare League of America, National Foster Care Coalition, First Focus Campaign for Children, KidsPeace, the Bair Foundation, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, the Children’s Leadership Council, National Council for Behavioral Health, and Voice for Adoption.

Senators Baldwin and Portman introduced a similar bill, the Quality Foster Care Services Act, during the last Congress in 2014. This year, bipartisan companion legislation is being introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK).

More information about the Family-Based Foster Care Services Act can be found here.

More information about support for the Family-Based Foster Care Services Act can be found here.