The Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH) is at the center of a congressional debate about foster care reform that would almost entirely defund congregate care facilities for children that have been removed from unfit homes.
The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016 limits federal funding to group homes in order to redirect those dollars 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.” It is currently under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee.
BCH President Michael Blackwell said in an email to the Biblical Recorder, “[The bill] would have a devastating impact on Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina as well as other such homes in our state and across the nation. We have not sought attention for our pro-active efforts on behalf of children and families. But, we ‘stand tall and steadfast’ in asking our fellow Baptists (as well as a host of other concerned citizens) to continue praying that [Family First] can be amended to lift the restrictions on compassionate residential/congregate organizations such as ours.
“There may be some benefits to children and families through [Family First], but any legislation that prohibits all options being available for the well-being of a child is not the solution.”
North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and Rep. Virginia Foxx took action after BCH urged lawmakers for months to support congregate care organizations by opposing the legislation. Foxx objected to a House Rules Committee effort to include the measure in a medical research and innovation bill called the 21st Century Cures Act.
“I hope the committees will look at this issue in the future and look to support the really fine programs out there taking care of children who’ve been physically, sexually and mentally abused,” Foxx said, according to news reports. “I am well aware of the work these facilities do. I did a lot of volunteer work with one of them. I know how hard they work to get foster homes established.”
The Huffington Post reported Dec. 2 that Burr urged fellow Senate Republicans to support striking the group care defunding provisions of Family First. Bill sponsors also received a letter from Burr and others that said, “[We] have heard from foster care advocates within our states who believe the changes within [the bill] could substantially disrupt the provision of care for vulnerable foster youth, and in many cases lead to the closure of foster care homes across our states.”
Critics 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,” citing government reimbursement numbers around $4,500 per month per child. The article also described congregate care as “warehousing neglected children.”
BCH President Michael Blackwell said the organization provides excellent support for foster children and the scrutinized government funds aren’t as exorbitant as they seem.
“When the Council on Accreditation (COA) [an independent human service accrediting organization] last reviewed us with the thoroughness of a head-to-toe exam, 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 (which would be in severe jeopardy if [Family First] passes) 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 that serve 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.