“Friends, please take a few minutes to read and act,” Blake Ragsdale recently wrote on his Facebook page. “This [Family First Act] piece of legislation troubles me because of the impact it could have on children who have no choice but to be placed in a caring living environment apart from their families.”
Ragsdale, director of communications for Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH), provided a link to the BCH website (bchfamily.org) to educate people about this pending legislation.
Under the proposed Family First Act, funding for placing boys and girls in residential care organizations like BCH would essentially be eliminated.
“Every child’s situation is unique and each child needs every option available so they can be referred to the place best equipped to care for him or her,” Ragsdale explained. “Senators will likely vote in September. Ask your friends to help and please pray for the hurting children in North Carolina and around the nation. They come first!”
What is the Family First Act?
A proposed federal bill known as the Family Prevention Services Act (H.R. 5456) would end the funding that statewide Departments of Social Services (DSS) utilize for placing boys and girls in BCH’s care.
Also known as the Family First Act, the bill in its current form would essentially eliminate BCH and other residential child care organizations as options for long-term placements of children. The bill would redirect federal funding to make foster care as the overwhelming long-term solution for children needing placement. While foster care is the right solution for some boys and girls, it is not the answer for all children.
“There are no positives and many negatives to the proposed Family First Act,” said BCH president/CEO Michael C. Blackwell in a Charity & Children story. “Any legislation seeking to inhibit children from accessing the exceptional care Baptist Children’s Homes and other residential organizations provide is extremely troubling.”
BCH regularly serves large sibling groups providing them with a caring home that allows them to be together. From July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016, BCH has served 80 sibling groups. Often times, foster homes are not equipped to care for large groups of children meaning brothers and sisters are split among different foster families.
Boys and girls are referred to BCH through multiple means. Some are placed privately by family members or guardians. Others are referred by DSS who often take custody of children from extreme situations, such as abuse and neglect, and bring them into BCH’s care immediately.
“It’s imperative to remove a child from such heartbreaking circumstances as quickly as possible,” Blackwell said. “Whenever DSS contacts us, day or night, we are able to work together to bring the child in almost instantly. The well-being of children is dependent on a strong partnership between DSS and BCH.”
BCH chief operating officer Keith Henry, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit’s programs and services, sees more cons than pros with the bill’s direction.
“Anything reasonable that can be done to prevent a negative impact on a child is a good thing, and we need to seek those solutions,” Henry explained. “What we cannot do is introduce measures that prevent a child from receiving the type of care that best suits his or her particular needs.”
If the bill passes, DSS choices for children become limited. DSS could still refer boys and girls to BCH, but only for a maximum of two weeks. Long-term placements would no longer be an option. The average length of stay for a child at BCH is nine months. Many stay until they graduate high school and some beyond.
“Every situation is unique, and the specific care one child needs is different than the needs of another,” Henry said in a Charity & Children story. “DSS must have every option available to them. Legislation that forces them to make decisions based on money instead of a child’s best interest is wrong.”
DSS placements comprise 88 percent of BCH’s current population. From 2013 to 2015, DSS referrals for BCH’s residential services have increased by 48 percent.
“With the rise in DSS referrals, it’s not logical to remove group home care as a solution,” Henry said. “In fact, the numbers state the opposite.”
Under the Family First Act, the overwhelming option for DSS would be foster home placements.
“There are situations where a foster family is the right solution, and there are times when it’s not,” Henry said. “We have seen many situations where a child has been forced to move from home to home because the foster family was not equipped to meet the extreme need of that child.”
BCH uses the CARE model (Children and Residential Experiences) in its group homes. Henry said the model gives house parents and social work staff members the knowledge and structure needed to help children overcome the trauma they have endured.
“Because of the training our house parents and social works receive, BCH has been able to provide children from failed foster care placements with successful, long-term care,” Henry said.
One of the other advantages to BCH is that it can accept siblings. There are currently 33 sibling groups at BCH across the state. In foster care, many times foster families are unable to accept multiple children resulting in the brothers and sisters being split apart.
“To me, this is one of the most important options BCH provides,” Henry explained.
The passage of the Family First Act could happen quickly as the Senate will reconvene in early September after its summer recess. Henry and Blackwell are urging everyone to immediately send letters and emails to North Carolina Senators expressing their concerns.
“Urge our Senators to revisit this legislation and delay action until it is amended to provide every option necessary for all children to receive the best possible care,” Blackwell said.
BCH leaders encouraged Biblical Recorder readers to:
Pray the bill in its current form is stopped and amended.
Contact your N.C. senators. See box above.
Share with your friends and encourage them to pray and make contact with our senators.
Contact your senator:
The Honorable Richard Burr
217 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-3154
The Honorable Thom Tillis
185 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-6342
(EDITOR’S NOTE – A supporter letter to send to your senator is available for download at bchfamily.org. For more information, contact BCH’s Keith Henry at 336-474-1215 or at [email protected].)