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Federal Law Is Changing Focus Of Foster Care

Left, Leanna Luka-Conley, county Adult, Children and Family Services deputy commissioner, discussing the Family First Prevention Services Act with the Chautauqua County Legislature Human Services Committee Wednesday. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

MAYVILLE — A new federal law is changing the focus of foster care in Chautauqua County.

On Wednesday, Leanna Luka-Conley, county Adult, Children and Family Services deputy commissioner, discussed the Family First Prevention Services Act with the Chautauqua County Legislature Human Services Committee. She said the federal law, which was enacted Feb. 9, 2018, is focused on placing more foster children with a family member or friend instead of a residential congregate care setting. She added the program specializes in using the least restrictive form of placement for a foster child, which prioritizes family-based care.

Luka-Conley said the new law is a shift for the county Youth Bureau Department. She said the state funded a consultant to assist county officials with coming up with a Family First plan, which has been submitted to the state, to maximize kin-first foster care. She added that state officials have to create their own plan, which needs to be submitted to the federal government. She said state officials tentative plan to have their plan completed by the fall.

The Family First plan was passed to prioritize family members to care for children in foster services, Luka-Conley said. If no family member is available, a friend, a neighbor or a teacher could be engaged to be a foster parent for a child in need of placement. She said the new law is placing accountability on county officials to improve its ratio of foster children being placed with friends or family instead in a residential facility. She added that federal funding could be cut if standards aren’t met.

Luka-Conley said by September 2021, the goal is to have fewer than 12% of county foster children in a residential facility.

She said currently the county has 20% of foster children in a residential facility.

Luka-Conley also said the county needs to increase the number of foster children in kin-first foster care. Currently, 20% of county foster children are in kinship care. She said by September 2021, the county needs to have 30% of foster children in kinship care.

Luka-Conley said the county’s plan includes working with community partners like New Direction and the Jamestown Public Schools District to meet the new federal foster care standards. She said this will be done by county officials changing their practice and culture when engaging kin from the point of initial investigation.

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