Senate Finance Committee Hears Antwone Fisher and Examines Family Finding and Reauthorization

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On Tuesday, April 23 the Senate Finance Committee held its first hearing of the year on child welfare. The focus of this hearing was on the issue of youth and family finding more generally and the reauthorization of the Family Connection Grants more specifically. The witnesses included Antwone Fisher, Author, Director and Film Producer, Gary Stangler, Executive Director, Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, Eric Fenner, Westerville Ohio Managing Director, Casey Family Programs, and Kevin Campbell, Founder, Center for Family Finding and Youth Connectedness. The star witness was Antwone Fisher, the subject of a 2002 movie, The Antwone Fisher Story which was based on his autobiography, Finding Fish.

As a child Fisher was in foster care and after moving into adulthood and the US Navy he later discovered he had relatives living very close by throughout his placement. Committee members were interested in Fischer’s real life and very difficult experiences but also about how to do a better job tracking down family members when children are in the child welfare system. Kevin Campbell spoke to his successful efforts in helping to match children with their families. In his comments he said that as he was preparing for his testimony he was able to identify 62 of Fisher’s relatives within 10 minutes at a cost of $15.00 using the technology and methods he developed on family finding.

He proposed that designated funds be used to train and implement practices that successfully notify and match relatives to children in the child welfare system. Gary Stangler spoke to the changing work in trying to assist youth in foster care. He suggested that in light of new research and practice the Committee should re-examine the Chafee Independence program and how it might be improved to address education, health and other needs such as financial planning.

Congress has to reauthorize the Family Connections Grants this year along with the adoption incentive fund. The grants provide short term funding for four types of programs: family finding, family group decision making, kinship navigator programs and residential parent-child substance abuse treatment and counseling. While the funding for the adoption incentive program is discretionary (and not scored with a cost), to continue the Family Connections Grants at the current $15 million a year in mandatory funds, will require Congress to find the funding to continue the program.

The Administration has proposed a three year reauthorization so that it would next expire along with the IV-B programs it is housed under. It also has the benefit of tasking Congress with finding three years of funding instead of the five years a traditional reauthorization would require. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), Chair of the Finance Committee, said he supported extending the program in his opening remarks. To access the complete testimony go to the Antwone Fisher Story as a Case Study for Child Welfare. The current authorization runs out on October 1, 2013.

by John Sciamana, Director of the National Foster Care Coalition
reprinted with permission

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