I am proud to be the sponsor of HSB 134, legislation designed to assist families in crisis (homelessness, sudden illness, unemployment, depression, deployment, domestic abuse/substance abuse treatment, incarceration, etc.) without strong family or community support to find a temporary placement for their child. It is a refreshing alternative to foster care and DHS (Department of Human Services) placement. It provides for the temporary delegation of authority by parents through a properly executed power of attorney to a well-vetted volunteer family willing to be of help in a time of need. The power of attorney is for a period of 90 days, can be extended for another 90 days, and can be revoked at any time.

Every year, DHS receives approximately 50,000 phone calls from parents in crisis seeking temporary placement for their child. It is an impossible task for DHS to resolve all of these concerns. This legislation will help DHS by providing alternatives to foster care for parents in crisis who are seeking a safe place for their children. In addition, it will help alleviate DHS’s caseload due to the early intervention that this legislation facilitates.

This approach allows parents to address the issues that led them to seek help without the fear that their family will be torn apart. In addition to caring for the children, host families also commit to building a relationship with the parents to support and encourage them, ultimately becoming like an extended family. Other volunteers support the success of placements by providing friendship, counseling, and encouragement. Essentially, you are utilizing the power of the local community to provide families in crisis with a social safety net they previously lacked — and it’s working

In Iowa, an organization called Safe Families for Children helps facilitate placements with host families and, since 2005, has helped more than 200 families and 300 children. Referrals come from schools, hospitals, homeless and domestic violence shelters, substance abuse treatment centers, and social service agencies. Nationwide, the Safe Families network is active in 27 states and has served 20,000 children, over 90 percent of whom have successfully returned home within an average of 45 days, never entering the child welfare system. A child who goes into foster care, by contrast, has roughly a 50/50 chance of ever going home.

Iowa has approximately 4,500 children in foster care. A conservative estimate is that this legislation could help keep 10 percent of those children out of foster care. The average pay-out alone to foster families is approximately $7,000 a year. In helping keep 10 percent of these children out of foster care, this approach could save Iowa taxpayers over $3 million annually.

More important than financial savings, this legislation is a refreshing alternative to foster care that can provide loving support for children and families in crisis. I will be doing all I can to move this legislation through the legislative process to the Governor’s desk for her signature.

Andy McKean represents Iowa House District 58. He can be reached at andy.mckean@legis.iowa.gov