Letter: US Senate Urged to Track “Hidden Foster Care”

A coalition statement submitted to the United States Senate Finance Committee urges members of the committee and the Senate at large to call for data tracking regarding families divided by the practice of “hidden foster care.” The letter was submitted on June 4 by the Parental Rights Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sending a clear signal that America’s families are a bipartisan concern.

The statement was filed as additional written testimony tied to a Senate Finance Committee Hearing held on May 22, 2024, to review the implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 (FFPSA).

Since adoption of the FFPSA, many local child welfare agencies have sought to reduce the number of children going into foster care by sending children to live with relatives, instead. (FFPSA allows federal dollars that were once reserved only for formal foster care to also be spent on programs to prevent the need for foster care in the first place.)

While foster care with relatives is preferrable for most families to foster care with strangers, it is still a form of foster care, and families are still being separated, often without the same due process protections afforded to parents whose children are taken into formal foster care. In short, replacing formal foster care with “hidden” kinship foster care is not what Congress had in mind when they passed the FFPSA.

Our letter to the Senate Finance Committee highlights this discrepancy and Congress’s responsibility to examine what effects the law is actually having on families.

Perhaps the best way to examine those effects is to require states and localities to track the outcomes of families being separated in this way. How many families were thusly separated last year? How many of them were later reunited? How long were the children out of their parent’s care? Was the parent ever substantiated for abuse or neglect?

Was the separation ultimately found to have been necessary in the first place?

These and more are the questions we need to be asking in order to know how widespread this practice is and whether or not it is helping the families it is intended to serve.

The Parental Rights Foundation joined with the ACLU and 24 other allies to make clear that this request for data does not come from only one point on the political spectrum, or even from just one side of the political aisle.

Other signers include the Alliance for Children’s Rights, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Ultimately, the Parental Rights Foundation would like to see the entire system reworked to ensure that fewer children are separated from their parents, that those who are removed find homes with relatives whenever possible, and that children return home as soon as it is safe for them to do so. While, sadly, family separation is sometimes necessary, it should be an option of last resort, and thus rare.

But in the meantime, we believe getting quality data from the states will help Congress—and our organizations and allies, as well—to see the full scope of this practice. Solid data will expose the problems in the system and drive consensus that change is needed.

This letter alone will not bring about change. It is not a bill and won’t be voted on. Those steps will come later, perhaps in a funding reauthorization bill, or even in a stand-alone bill to require this data collection. We are continually working with our coalition partners on these very projects.

But this letter was an opportunity to weigh in, to further the discussion, and to put our concerns before U.S. Senators who perhaps had not heard our perspective on these concerns before.

They have certainly heard from us now.

Thank you for standing with us and making these efforts possible through your support of the Parental Rights Foundation!