A federal legislation passed in 2018 that impacts child welfare funding and programs is gradually being rolled out across the United States and is due to be implemented in North Carolina by the fall of 2021. Local organizations are working with state legislature to figure out what that will mean for Cumberland County’s group homes.
The Family First Prevention Services Act seeks to prevent children from having to leave their homes. To accomplish this goal, the legislation will allocate more money toward counseling agencies, Department of Social Services programs and other various avenues that try to keep families together. In so doing, the money that is needed to fund these causes will be taken from group homes.
“(The federal government) gave states the latitude to implement (the bill) a year or two years later,” explained Joseph Leggett, CEO of Falcon Children’s Home and Family Services. “North Carolina has decided they will implement it by the fall of 2021.”
While the intention of keeping children with their families is well-meaning, it isn’t an ideal solution for every child. Part of the reason that group homes are so important in N.C. is because they are where children go when they don’t have anywhere else to be placed.
“A child doesn’t come to a children’s home first unless there’s nowhere else for them to go,” Leggett said.
“When they take a child from home, they try to find relatives first. If they can’t find relatives, they even try to find friends they can approve. If they can’t find friends, they’ll try to put them in a foster home. It’s only after they’ve gone through that that (the kids will be put in) group homes … There are more kids in foster homes than there are in group homes, so we aren’t talking about a large amount of money there.”
Leggett said the legislation has good components to it, but he wants to make sure that Falcon does its part to do what’s best for the children in the community.
“We aren’t against children staying at home. It would be our wish that every child could stay at home and no child would ever need Falcon Children’s Home, but that’s just not reality,” Leggett explained.
Thankfully, the state is supportive of residential care. The hope is that, although federal funding for group homes will be cut substantially, the state will pick up those additional costs. Although Leggett doubts that group homes will get dollar-for-dollar what they were receiving before, he believes they could survive off of less if they have to, even if that means having to cut down some programs.
“We aren’t doing this to keep our share of funds or to keep our children here,” Leggett said. “We’re doing this because after 100-something years, we know that for whatever reason, some children can not stay at home. And, we are a viable and productive part of helping children get past that and become important citizens in the community and the surrounding area … This is us saying, ‘We support anything that helps the child. … We want to be part of the solution.’”
The home is working with a lobbying group called Benchmarks, which is “a nonprofit association of provider agencies advocating for quality and accountability among human service providers so that North Carolina’s children, adults and families can realize their full potential, contribute to their communities and live healthy lives,” according to its website. In addition to having quarterly meetings with the organization, Falcon is working with child advocacy groups and the Cumberland County Department of Social Services to gather information about the implementation of the legislation.
Advocating for group homes as the Family First Prevention Services Act goes into effect and learning about the good that they do can be done in a multitude of ways. Here are just a few:
Talk to local legislators. Call them or email them and explain how group homes are vital to the well-being of children across the county and state. Leggett said many elected officials are not as educated as they should be about the potential impact of the Family First Prevention Services Act. Additionally, group homes across N.C. are accredited in addition to being licensed by the state.They bring in billions of dollars in chartitable giving every year to the state budget. If group homes close down, the state will lose billions of dollars and the state will have to pick up those child welfare costs.
Ask for a tour of Falcon or another group home you’d like to support and learn about what they do.
Donate, donate, donate. Monthly financial contributions, fundraisers for Falcon, gifts of land that they can utilize or sell for money, or donations of commodities are more helpful than ever before.
Ask about volunteer opportunities.
Visit https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/253/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22family%20first%20prevention%20services%20act%22%5D%7D&r=1 to read the Family First Prevention Services Act. Visit https://www.falconchildrenshome.com/ to learn more about Falcon Children’s Home and Family Services.