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NM Senators Urge Passage Of Foster Care Reforms To Help Children Affected By Opioid Abuse Epidemic


Commentary: U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich joined 23 of their Senate colleagues in sending a letter to congressional leaders urging them to include strongly supported reforms to the foster care system in any end-of-year budget agreement. The Family First Prevention Services Act would allow states to use federal foster care funds to pay for programs that improve home life, such as mental health services and in-home parenting programs, which are crucial in light of the growing number of children in the foster care system whose families are affected by the opioid abuse epidemic and other substance abuse problems. The programs would enable more children to stay in their homes or with extended family and prevent children from being placed in group homes unnecessarily.

More than 2,000 children enter the foster care system in New Mexico each year, and with increasing numbers of opioid addiction and substance abuse cases, that number continues to rise. The reforms would give states the chance to fight the underlying problems that create unsafe homes in the first place and keep families together.

The Family First Prevention Services Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives in June and has 25 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate in addition to the support of over 500 state and national organizations. The bipartisan, bicameral legislation was originally included in the 21st Century Cures Act, a health care bill passed by the House and up for a vote in the Senate this week, but it was struck from the measure unexpectedly last week. In their letter, the senators condemned its removal from the health care bill and urged lawmakers to pass it anyway as part of the Continuing Resolution to fund the government, which Congress must approve by Friday.

"We write to express our profound disappointment and disbelief that, at the last minute, this bipartisan and bicameral child welfare legislation was struck from the 21st Century Cures Act package. This legislation, the Family First Prevention Services Act, would improve the lives of vulnerable children and families by making historic changes to the foster care system and was the product of nearly two years of bipartisan work and negotiations," the lawmakers wrote to leaders of the House and Senate.

"Each year thousands of American children are taken from their homes and placed in foster care. In the midst of an opioid epidemic, those numbers are dramatically rising. H.R. 5456/S. 3065 would allow states to use their federal foster care funds to pay for evidence-based opioid and substance abuse treatment, mental health services and in-home parenting programs so that children can remain at home when safely possible," the senators added. "It would help grandparents who, either on a temporary or permanent basis, become caregivers for children who might otherwise enter foster care. It would also ensure high standards for foster care group homes to ensure that the most vulnerable children get clinical and professional help to address the traumas they have experienced."