Advocates Applaud Federal Program Authorizing Family-Support Services
By Deborah L. Cohen
Washington--The Human Services Reauthorization Act that cleared the Congress this month has garnered national attention for its promise to serve all children eligible for Head Start by 1994--for the first time in the landmark Great Society program's history.
But children's advocates seeking to extend Head Start's philosophy to a broad range of efforts to heal troubled families are hailing another milestone marked by the legislation: a modest grant program to help states develop "family-resource and support programs.''
The provision would authorize $30 million in the current fiscal year for community-based services that offer "sustained assistance to families at various stages in their development" to enhance their child-rearing skills and help compensate for "the increased social isolation and vulnerability" families face.
The programs would offer families such services as parenting education and assistance in using community resources to meet a variety of needs and help set up support networks for children and families.
Leaders of the Chicago-based Family Resource Coalition, a national network of more than 2,000 individuals and groups involved in such programs, applauded the measure at its third national conference in Chicago this month.
"This is the first federal support for family-resource and support services," said Frank Farrow, chairman of the coalition's board of directors and director of children's policy at the Center for the Study of Social Policy in Washington.
An Offshoot of Head Start
Community-based, prevention-oriented programs offering education and support services to strengthen families began emerging in the 1970's as an offshoot of both the Head Start and "self-help" movements.
In recent years, such states as Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, and Missouri have launched parenting and family-resource-center programs with similar goals. The Kentucky legislature, as part of a sweeping education-reform bill, has also called for family-support centers in all schools where more than 20 percent of the students qualify for federal school-meals programs.
The federal provision was added to HR 4151, the human-services bill, by Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who chairs the Subcommittee on Children, Families, Drugs, and Alcoholism. The bill cleared a House-Senate conference committee and passed both chambers this month; it now awaits President Bush's signature. (See Education Week, Oct. 10, 1990.)
Under the measure, state grants ranging from $1.5 million to $6 million would be awarded on a competitive basis by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. States would be required to contribute at least 20 percent of the cost of the program; a lead agency designated by the governor would disburse funds to local grantees.
Grantees would have to ensure that parents were involved in the design and governance of the family-resource programs; that a range of state and local agencies, representatives of the business community, and family-support experts were involved; and that core services such as parent education, outreach, referral, and follow-up work were offered.
The measure would also authorize $2.3 million for a "National Center on Family Resource and Support Programs," which would serve as a clearinghouse for information on such programs and provide technical help in establishing them.
'The First Piece'
The provision represents the first enactment of a legislative proposal on children's initiatives drafted by the Children's Defense Fund and the Child Welfare League of America. Rather than aiming for one bill encompassing all their proposals, the , two groups, working in concert with more than two dozen child-welfare, health, and social-policy organizations, have attempted to work components of the package into a variety of measures.
The family-support provision of HR 4151, which was spearheaded by the Family Resource Coalition, is "the first piece" to be enacted, noted Bernice Weissbourd, the group's president and founder.
Linda Greenan, director of public policy for the c.w.l.a., noted that HR 4151 also contains a proposal backed by children's advocates authorizing $30 million for state-level interagency collaboration in services to children and for greater coordination of federal children's programs. In another provision backed by the advocacy groups, an amendment to the Stewart B. McKinney Home less Assistance Act introduced by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, would authorize $50 million in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 for grants to provide case management and other support services for families living in poor areas and considered at risk of becoming homeless.
The measure on homelessness has cleared a House-Senate conference committee and was awaiting floor action late last week.
Ms. Weissbourd also pointed out that the Comprehensive Child Development Center Act of 1988, which funds programs modeled after the "Beethoven Project"--a comprehensive parenting and child-development program in Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes housing project--also promotes the coalition's goals.
But advocates have been less successful in advancing parts of their agenda calling for improvements in the adoption and foster-care systems; comprehensive "family preservation" efforts before or after foster-care placement; services to abandoned children for whom there is no parental contact; and programs for children with serious emotional disorders. Bills containing some of the proposals were introduced, but held up for budgetary reasons, Ms. Greenan said.