The Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH) said it has ‘resolved concerns’ with lawmakers over foster care reform legislation that could defund most congregate care programs.
Photo by Steve Cooke
Michael Blackwell, president of Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, delivers an annual report to the messengers of the 2016 annual meeting of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
The organization is celebrating changes to the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016 after holding “day-long negotiations,” although no official congressional action took place before the legislative session ended.
In its current form the Family First Act severely limits federal funding for group homes to redirect money to foster care placement prevention and family services, such as drug abuse programs and parent skill-based training.
The bill’s purpose is to “keep children safe and supported at home.”
BCH President Michael Blackwell said the legislation is well intentioned but could lead to unintended consequences.
“Baptist Children’s Homes is a proponent of some aspects of the proposed legislation,” said Blackwell. “Prevention is an essential part of the continuum of care to children and families. However, with the specific kind of family-focused and trauma-informed services many residential care organizations such as BCH offers, Family First in its original form would only allow children to be placed in care for two weeks before having to move them yet again. This is not enough time to do a proper assessment and determine the best possible care for a child depending on his or her unique circumstances.
“In addition, because of the family environment BCH provides, sibling groups that had to be removed from their families are able to stay together in our care. This is seldom the case with other child care placement options as many of them are not able to accept multiple children.”
Blackwell said in an email to the Biblical Recorder that he and BCH Chief Operating Officer J. Keith Henry were “heavily involved in the process of negotiating the language” of the alleged changes, although lawmakers involved in the talks were not named. Details about alleged changes to the bill have not been released.
Blackwell described the bill as “effectively amended,” although no vote was taken before Congress adjourned. Congress will reconvene Jan. 3, 2017.
“We are thankful to the U.S Senate and House representatives from North Carolina who stood with us in believing that all high-quality care options must be available to children,” Blackwell said. “They have worked tirelessly to ensure that the Family First Act will allow all children to receive the care that will best meet their needs.
“We also thank the thousands of BCH supporters who rallied to let Congress know that in its original form, the Family First Act would have had a devastating impact on many of the children that BCH serves. This support absolutely turned the tide in this uphill battle!
“It is BCH’s hope that when the new Congress convenes in January that the amended legislation will be accepted and that all of us who are passionate about the welfare of children and families can celebrate this good news together.”
Some proponents of the bill say group care organizations like BCH come at a high cost to taxpayers but offer substandard services.
A report by The Huffington Post called BCH programs “lucrative” and described congregate care as “warehousing neglected children.”
Blackwell said the description is “ludicrous and grossly inaccurate,” adding that BCH provides excellent support for children removed from dysfunctional homes and federal reimbursements are determined on a county-by-county basis by local departments of social services.
“When the Council on Accreditation (COA) [an independent human service accrediting organization] last reviewed us … the team leader said BCH had a clear ‘Culture of Excellence’ and they had not encountered an organization quite like ours in all their years of visiting similar ones across the country,” Blackwell said.
“Annual licensing and every-four-year accreditation by COA guarantee the highest quality of care. This, combined with in-house training, which holds staff to a high level of competence, makes BCH the leader in its field. The money that BCH receives from the federal government … doesn’t cover the cost of care of one of our precious children, costs such as food, clothing, education, counseling, instruction, house parents, case managers, support staff, recreation, travel, training and special events.”
BCH operates 21 facilities across the state serving more than 20,000 at-risk youth, single mothers, special needs adults and aging adults.
In their 2016 report to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s annual meeting, BCH said the number of children under their care rose 24 percent in the past two years. In addition, the number of mothers and children coming into their Family Care residential program increased by 314 percent.