02.06.14

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

Quality Foster Care Services Act Increases Quality of Care for Children with Major 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 Quality 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.

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

“Creating uniform federal standards to improve foster care services will help protect some of our nation’s most vulnerable children,” said Senator Portman. “This legislation not only ensures that taxpayer dollars are used more effectively, but also better provides quality mental and behavioral health services to youth in the foster care community who have been abused or experienced trauma.”

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.

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 Quality 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.

"Children's Hospital of Wisconsin applauds Senator Baldwin for championing this important legislation," said Amy Herbst, VP Child Welfare, Community Services Division, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. "By doing so she puts first the needs of the country's most vulnerable kids. As a long-standing provider of TFC we know first-hand that trauma informed, therapeutic family placements are effective in providing for the safety, permanence and well-being of children needing a higher-level of care. TFC Care parents are specially trained and provide individualized, nurturing, therapeutic care. TFC is a successful and cost-effective means to care for some of our most vulnerable kids. Great progress can be made when policy makers focus on these kids."

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.

“We appreciate Senator Portman’s hard work on behalf of Treatment or Therapeutic Foster Care to ensure quality services for children,” said Ann Mitchell, Program Director of Pressley Ridge in Cincinnati, Ohio. “As one of the pioneers of Treatment Foster Care, Pressley Ridge has seen firsthand the positive impact of quality care and supportive, well trained foster parents in the lives of kids. We fully support this important legislation to provide uniformity to services and provider qualifications.”

The legislation is endorsed by a significant number of national children’s and mental health organizations including: The Alliance for Children and Families, Child Welfare League of America, Children’s Defense Fund, First Focus, Foster Family-based Treatment Association, KidsPeace, National Council for Community Behavioral Health, National Foster Care Coalition, and Voice for Adoption. 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 Quality Foster Care Services Act can be found here.