Nearly half a million American minors are in foster care, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Groundbreaking legislation that would have focused funding on family preservation and child abuse prevention died in Congress at the end of last year, but is expected to be revived in 2017. In the meantime, in many states, funding from the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) plays an important role in serving this vulnerable population. Examples of innovative work being done by states, supported by MIECHV funds, includes:
Nationally, child neglect represents about 78% of child welfare referrals, and Georgia is nearly as high at almost 74%. Very young children are among the most vulnerable, and are most likely to be victims of substantiated maltreatment. That’s why Georgia’s SafeCare parenting program works specifically with foster youth who are parents, to address both physical abuse and neglect in parents of children age birth-to-5. Through SafeCare, trained professionals work with at risk families in their home environments to improve foster youths’ parenting skills in several domains. Parents are taught, for example, how to plan and implement activities with their children, respond appropriately to child behaviors, improve home safety, and address health and safety issues. SafeCare is generally provided in weekly home visits lasting from 1–2 hours. The program typically lasts 18–20 weeks for each family.
In Illinois, the Pregnant and Parenting Youth in Care pilot provides pregnant and/or parenting foster youth in Department of Children and Family Services care with access to voluntary Healthy Families Illinois (HFI) home visiting services. Home visitors focus on strengthening overall family well-being by educating young parents about child development, providing support and information about appropriate resources for their children, and developing the knowledge needed to keep children safe and healthy. Home visitors are equipped to identify and address potential developmental or learning disabilities to ensure the young child is prepared for school success. Home visitors tailor services to meet the individual needs of each family, assisting young parents with establishing educational and vocational goals and providing foster youth parents with support to achieve their goals. To date, the pilot has seven HFI sites fully trained, with an additional site in process. The goals of the pilot are to:
o promote healthy pregnancies and deliveries, nurturing parent-child relationships, and healthy child development;
o enhance family functioning by reducing risk of abuse and building protective factors;
o promote pre-school readiness for children;
o break the intergenerational cycle of abuse, neglect, and trauma;
o increase coordination between the child welfare and home visiting systems in Illinois; and
o create a model for providing home visiting services to pregnant and/ or parenting youth in care that can be replicated throughout Illinois.
Healthy Families Massachusetts (HFM) is open to first-time parents age 20 and younger, and is inclusive of foster youth both as parents and as children under a care and protection order. The HFM eligibility policy explicitly provides for participants to continue receiving services while his/her child is in foster care, provided that the goal for the child is reunification with the parents. Home visitors are then able to schedule visits for times when the baby and parent are together, as well as when the participant is alone. Participants can remain enrolled as long as s/he wishes. The HFM eligibility policy also allows parents that have not had an extensive parenting experience before a child was permanently removed from custody to enroll. A parent who has lost or relinquished parental rights before a child is 3 months old (including an infant death), and has not parented another child, is considered a first-time parent and may enroll in HFM. Some of the most impressive success stories have been participants who began in HFM as foster youth themselves. This video showcases an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xj855A2LUJ8
Ohio allows MIECHV funds to be used to serve families of children ages birth-to-5 in the foster care system, as long as the goal is reunification. The lead agency has given guidance that the biological mother is still considered to be the targeted client, and that the family service plans should reflect curriculum and community linkage/referral activities that are designed to strengthen her parenting skills and efficacy. In these cases, most visits occur during visitation activities with the mother, of if appropriate, with the mother alone, to provide support and referral.
Unlike many other states, in Oregon multiple MIECHV evidence-based home visiting models work with foster youth. In Eastern Oregon, many of the infants and toddlers served by the Early Head Start home visiting model are in foster care. In addition, the state funds a Healthy Families America initiative in Portland that is specific to teen parents, that has served some youth living in foster care who are themselves parents.
In Texas, four of the state-funded home visiting programs are operated under the local emergency shelter, and as such, highly integrate support for foster youth that are parents. In addition to the resources provided through MIECHV, Texas utilizes state general revenue funds to support Help Through Intervention and Prevention (HIP), which provides evidence-based home visiting services for current and former foster youth who are pregnant, who have recently given birth, and who are parenting a child up to 24 months old. HIP also serves families who have had their parental rights to one or more children terminated due to abuse or neglect, or who have had a child die due to abuse or neglect, and have recently had a new birth. There are currently 12 HIP programs operating throughout Texas.