Several champions in both chambers of Congress continued to educate themselves and the public about child maltreatment, how we can prevent it and how to help children and families heal in 2012. Through the House Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and the Senate Foster Youth Caucus, bi-partisan leaders held speaker series and listening tours throughout the year. At the year’s end, the caucus leaders successfully passed the Uninterrupted Scholars Act (S. 3472) which will work to improve educational outcomes for students in foster care.
In 2012, CWLA started tracking some proposed prevention legislation by these and other defenders of children that, unfortunately and like the majority of bills, never gained traction in committee or the larger legislative bodies. The Help Separated Families Act (HR 6128) was reintroduced this session to address the separation of families as a result of immigration enforcement. Ensuring Child Care for Working Families Act of 2012 (HR 5188) would make the child care subsidy an entitlement for working families with incomes below 200% of poverty. A bill to support research, prevention, and public awareness of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), the Advancing FASD Research, Prevention, and Services Act (S. 2262) was also introduced. In addition, Congressional responses to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case continued into 2012, with the introduction of bills like the Helping Schools Protect Our Children Act of 2012 (S. 3173) and the National Child Protection Training Act (S. 3653/HR. 6629). These bills followed several others that were proposed more immediately after news of the tragedy in late 2011.
Towards the end of 2012, passage for several bills looked promising. Late in December, the House passed the Protect Our Kids Act (HR 6655) on a bi-partisan vote of 330-77. Early in 2013, the Senate voted by unanimous consent to send it to the President. That bill establishes a Presidential Commission to study child deaths. It also appeared that several controversial provisions of Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization would be sorted through for passage. However, opposition to fully including immigrants, tribal members and LGBTQ victims and survivors remained a roadblock and reauthorization efforts continue into the next session. Finally, the farm bill, which includes the SNAP food assistance entitlement, was a part of the year end fiscal cliff bill (HR 8). SNAP is now extended for 9 months into the new year.
In 2012, the President’s Administration acted to further the prevention of child abuse and neglect. At the beginning of the year, they announced a new rule to make it easier for undocumented immigrants who are related to a U.S. citizen to seek legal U.S. residency. The proposal would allow spouses and children of U.S. citizens to stay in the United States while the government decides whether to issue a waiver, significantly shortening the time families are separated. Additionally, many grants from child welfare specific legislation were tailored to meet socio-emotional and well-being needs of children in and at risk of entering the child welfare system. The Administration also funded a second round of Early Learning Challenge Fund grants out of the Race to the Top incentive fund. ELCF is an effort to improve the quality of early childhood systems and align them with K-12 and higher education systems. The administration also announced another round of awards for home visiting grants, authorized by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148). Home visiting is an evidence-based intervention that prevents maltreatment and provides parent education, support and service and community linkages.
Anticipating a 2013 with continued budget debates, it’s critical to let the administration and Congress hear our support for prioritizing the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Stay tuned to the Children’s Monitors for updates on federal action and ways you can help make children and families a national priority.