This morning, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to examine America’s child welfare system ahead of the expiration of two federal programs—the Adoption Incentive and Family Connection Grants—at the end of the fiscal year. Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) opened the hearing talking about the importance of strong homes and families for children. He explained that the hearing would look at Antwone Fisher’s story as a case study of child welfare. Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) echoed the importance of improving outcomes for youth in care and both spoke of continuing bipartisan work towards this end.
Leading off the panel of witnesses was Antwone Fisher who grew up in foster care without ever being placed in a permanent home. Mr. Fisher overcame ongoing maltreatment to become a successful Navy soldier and eventually playwright, screenwriter, director and producer. Fisher’s story has not only captivated audiences in a major motion picture, but also the Finance Committee, as the members responded with admiration and expressions of inspiration. In his testimony, Fisher highlighted the need to prevent children from languishing in foster care through adoption, the need to better prepare and serve older youth who age out of foster care, and the promise of family finding. Poignantly, Fisher described how found out as an adult that he had grown up in the same school as his cousins, and that his family would have taken him in if they had only known he needed a home.
Additional witnesses included Gary Stangler, Executive Director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative; Eric Fenner, Managing Director with Casey Family Programs; and Kevin Campbell, Founder of the Center for Family Finding and Youth Connectedness. Stangler spoke about the need to update federal supports for older youth in care—including the Chaffee Foster Care Independence and Education and Training Voucher programs—particularly in light of new neuroscience and identified best practices. Fenner spoke of his past experiences in direct practice to highlight the need for flexible financing that enables individual assessments to ensure permanent relationships for children. He pointed to the benefits of Title IV-E waivers and called for further child welfare finance reform. Campbell spoke about family finding as key way to ensure meaningful lifelong connections for children. He explained that he found sixty-two of Fisher’s relatives in ten minutes with fifteen dollars and called for better enforcement of federal family notification requirements.
CWLA strongly supports reauthorization of the Adoption Incentive Program and Family Connection Grants. Furthermore, our 2013 Legislative Agenda specifically outlines ways to improve these and the Chaffee programs in-line with our National Blueprint vision that all children grow up safe, in loving families and supportive communities with everything they need to flourish.
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