Commentary

Missouri is failing our children. The solution is right there in our communities

October 5, 2022 6:30 am

By not investing in prevention preventive services, Missouri child welfare system problems are worsening (Getty Images).

Every child deserves to live safely in a home in their community.

Too many Missouri children enter the child welfare system and leave their families and communities for reasons unrelated to harm or neglect, but due to misdirected responses to family and community hardship. This flawed approach not only harms children, families and communities, but is unsustainable as a system.

Missouri has experienced a 49% increase in the number of children in foster care since 2009, now at approximately 14,000, and existing strategies are not reducing the number of children coming into foster care or increasing family and community stability

The critical shortage of staff and resources currently plaguing Missouri’s child welfare system and the historically high number of new children entering the system shows the inevitable outcome when community-based preventive services for children already in place around the state are not fully utilized.

One such example is the federal Family First Prevention Services Act transition funds, which sit idle instead of helping thousands of Missouri children stay safely in their homes with their families, going to school in their neighborhoods and playing with their friends.

Together, we must invest and partner to protect thousands of at-risk children. Doing anything less will set our state on a path toward even bigger problems in the future.

The child welfare system in Missouri includes a statewide network of community-based organizations that partner together to ensure that children facing potentially dangerous situations can live safely with their families and receive the services needed to grow and succeed in life. These agencies are often the first line of defense for vulnerable children and families, and they deliver a wide range of services daily that are effective in keeping kids and families together and out of the child welfare system.

For example, Functional Family Therapy is a short-term, evidence-based intervention program in Jackson County that works with 11- to 18-year-old youths who have been referred for behavioral or emotional problems by the juvenile justice, mental health, education or child welfare systems. The therapy focuses on assessment and intervention to address risk and protective factors within and outside of the family that impact the adolescent and his or her adaptive development.

In 2021, 88% of young people participating in Functional Family Therapy did not have a law violation during the intervention, and 91% of those who were served by the program remained in the home.

In Missouri, nearly $10 million in Family First Prevention Services Act transition funding for this act has been appropriated in the state’s budget each year for three years. These funds have not yet been invested in the state’s community-based preventive services. The reasons behind this impasse are multiple, but the bottom line is that withholding this money only exacerbates the well-documented problems now plaguing Missouri’s child welfare agency and shuts off the best solution.

By not investing in these and other prevention preventive services, Missouri child welfare system problems are worsening.

If the state aligned with the per capita national average, we would only have only approximately 7,000 children in foster care. This adverse trend will continue until the state fully invests in the community-based services solutions now available. Getting our state’s child welfare system back on track by maximizing the opportunities offered by community-based organizations will take the collective efforts of our legislators, the Missouri Department of Social Services, community leaders and the public at large.

Together, we must invest and partner to protect thousands of at-risk children. Doing anything less will set our state on a path toward even bigger problems in the future.

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Mary Chant
Mary Chant

Mary Chant is chief executive officer of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Missouri Coalition for Children. MCC advocates for Missouri’s children, families and communities and is committed to advancing child and family well-being, child abuse prevention, effective intervention, and high impact education, treatment and care.

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