Senate Finance Committee Adopts Bill on Adoption Incentives, Trafficking

On Thursday, December 12, the Senate Finance Committee passed the “Supporting At-Risk Children Act of 2013.” The legislation bundled together a reauthorization of the adoption incentives fund, new legislative language to address domestic sex trafficking through child welfare, and provisions that deal with child support collection including provisions to address international treaties.

The adoption incentives fund requirements differ from a bipartisan House bill (HR 3205) in how it allocates funds for the placement of children from foster care into adoptive families. Both bills now provide an award for kinship care placements although the Senate provides a higher award than the House bill. In addition the Senate creates a broader definition of kinship care placements. The House bill also creates an additional category of children 14 and older. Both bills require greater accountability of state savings that is being realized by states as federal adoption assistance is expanded each year due to the Fostering Connections to Success Act (PL 110-351) of 2008. The Senate directs states to spend the savings on more specific categories of services. Both bills extend the Family Connections Grants which currently funds kinship navigator programs, residential drug treatment, family finding services and family group decision making services although the Senate removes the requirement that at least $5 million of the $15 million in annual funds go toward the navigator programs. Both bills extend the law by three years.

In regard to the issue of sex trafficking of children from the child welfare system, the bill creates a number of new requirements on state screening, data reporting and services to youth although these requirements are not accompanied by any additional funding. Policies and procedures would have to be in place to screen, identify and determine services for victims of trafficking for youth up to age of 21 (or at state option to age 26). It defines sex trafficking consistent with federal law that deals with international victims.

The bill also addresses young people in foster care who are in what is generally viewed as long term foster care. These are young people who may be classified as under “another planned permanent living arrangement” (APPLA). Under the legislation no youth 16 or under could be considered “APPLA” and similar to the bill (S. 1518) introduced earlier this year by Senator Orin Hatch, new requirements would be placed on the courts and states for increased hearings. States would have to give the courts greater accounting of what the agency has done to place young people into adoptive, kinship or birth families.

Also similar to the Hatch bill it would create a definition in law for a “prudent parent” standard. Each child would have to have someone in a foster home or residential facility that could meet these standards. Each child in foster care or a facility would have to have such a person (which could include a foster parent) to make decisions regarding various activities a child in foster care could participate in. This is an attempt to assure that foster children are not denied access to activities and items such as driver’s licenses, attending high school dances, and other activities sometimes restricted due to being in a foster care placement. The bill would also require that a child 14 and older be directly involved in their case planning (currently required of youth 16 and older). The legislation also requires a bill of rights provided to youth 14 or older who are in foster care, kinship care or adopted and would specify in law that anyone 14 or older who exits foster care have a birth certificate, Social Security card, drivers’ license, and a bank account (unless the child decides not to have a bank account). Failure to do this will require a reduction in a state’s reimbursement under Title IV-E.

The legislation requires that when a child runs from foster care they be reported within 24 hours to the National Crime Information Center and to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. States would also have to report through AFCARS the number of children in foster care who have been identified as victims of sex trafficking. The bill creates numerous requirements on HHS and creates an advisory committee on trafficking.

The legislation also makes a number of changes to the child support system not necessarily related to the child welfare system. There is one requirement for states to pass along child support collected from absent parents to youths in foster care.

The House legislation that deals with the reauthorization of the adoption incentive fund passed the House on October 28. Current law rewards states for an increase in the overall adoptions ($4000 per child), special needs adoptions ($4000) and older child adoptions—considered a child age 9 or older ($8000). In the last reauthorization a $1000 incentive was included for states that experienced an increase in their adoption rate. This part of the award was only provided to states if the funding did not run out after the other categories were provided.

The House bill would:

-Extend the authorization of the program through FY 2016 (aligning its next reauthorization with that of the Title IV-B programs)—Same as the Senate

-Add a $1000 award for placements with legal guardians (mirroring certain requirements under Title IV-E)—Different from the Senate

-Phase in awards based on improvements in the rate of adoptions and guardianships instead actual increases in numbers—Different from the Senate

-Provide a $2000 award for overall adoptions, $4000 for children aged nine through 13, $8000 for a new category of youth aged 14 and older—Different from the Senate which does not include 14-year olds as a separate category

-It requires states to calculate savings resulting from the gradual delinking and increased federal support for adoption assistance. HHS is to create the formula or work with states to develop a calculation and states have to document how they are reinvesting these funds beyond what they currently spend under Title IV-B and Title IV-E programs­-Some similarity to the Senate although the Senate requires various reinvestment requirements of the savings

-Extends the Family Connects Grants at their annual $15 million a year—Similar to the Senate although the Senate no longer requires at least $5 million a year for Kinship Navigator programs.

-Enacts a fix to current guardianship law that will allow a child to receive continued support when there is successor guardian due to death or incapacity –Same as Senate

The next steps will be for the Senate to adopt this measure (likely by voice vote/unanimous consent) then there will be a negotiation with the House Ways and Means Committee members and staff to work out differences. That is likely sometime in January.

John Sciamanna

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